Obsession with reversal of Trump policies proving disastrous
On 30 September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain joined France and Italy in the Munich Agreement which pledged that these countries would not interfere with Germany’s annexation of the Sudeten section of Czechoslovakia, which was inhabited by ethnic Germans.
This treaty became known as the “Munich Betrayal” because it violated mutual defense treaties signed in 1924 and 1925 by France and Czechoslovakia. Subsequent events showed that this treaty simply allowed Adolph Hitler the additional time he needed to conquer Europe one victim at a time. Eventually, he turned on Britain as well. For those reasons, Neville Chamberlain’s name has become synonymous with “appeaser”, “coward” and “naïve”.
In 2022, Joseph Biden is facing a similar dilemma. Russia and China are both asserting the same claim that Hitler used as an excuse to begin his invasion of most of Europe, namely, the ethnic heritage of the target countries. To date, Biden, like Barack Obama, seems inclined to imitate Chamberlain rather than Churchill.
The irony is that Biden himself has created this dilemma. His predecessor had implemented a set of solutions aimed at avoiding the very problems Biden is now facing. Underlying all of these problems is the Bidens’ lack of understanding that many actions taken in governing the homeland have foreign policy consequences as well. Biden and his cohorts appear to be living in a little bubble.
The present situation in Europe is a case in point. Much to the satisfaction of the radical Left, the new President cancelled the Keystone Pipeline, then the Anwar Pipeline in Alaska, followed by declaring all federal lands and seas off limits to all new oil drilling and pipelines, effectively crippling the energy industry in America and, incidentally, eliminating the USA’s energy independence as well as our ability to export energy products to other countries, especially Europe, Japan and China.
In a spasm of righteousness, he also reversed America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear materials production agreement as well as the other “green planet” agreements of the Obama administration. He also abandoned Israel and Afghanistan. And Germany got to keep the Nord Stream Pipeline. What he seemed to miss was the effect all this would have on Germany, NATO and Russia – with China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan in the wings.
Our adversaries are watching all this. They have also seen the invasion of foreigners through our southern border, the steep inflation of our economy, the deep division of our population, and the paralysis around the COVID 19 pandemic.
They decided to take advantage of all this and make their play for their own dreams of conquering new territory. Russia covets control of Ukraine now, with the rest of the former Soviet empire on its agenda. China, having already broken its treaty with the UK and taken control of Hong Kong, now wants to annex Taiwan on its way to replacing the USA as the dominant power in the Western Pacific. (USA interests are commercial trade relationships rather than territorial – including China.)
So, let’s connect the dots. The most urgent issue at the moment is Russia’s interest in Ukraine. Why is that a concern of the United States? That is a good question. The answer really goes back to 1945.
World War II ended when Nazi Germany found the eastern half of the country occupied by the Soviet Union and the other half by the Allies, led by the United States, which had saved Europe from the Nazis, aided by the UK and France.
The Americans wanted to stop fighting and go home. The Soviets, however, saw no reason not to extend their occupation and they had the army standing by to replace the Germans as the conquerors of the rest of Europe.
Actually, the Allies faced the distinct possibility of that happening if they did in fact go home. To avoid the possibility of the Soviet Union using its army to occupy the rest of Europe after the surrender, US President Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Churchill were able to persuade their other ally, Soviet Leader Josef Stalin, to divide Germany into four zones: USA, Soviet Russia, UK, and France, thus leveraging their power which Stalin still needed to win the war. (That treaty was the controversial Potsdam Agreement.)
When the actual surrender came, then, General Dwight Eisenhower, as Supreme Allied Commander, authorized the Soviet occupation of what came to be called East Germany (for which he was criticized in some quarters).
This caution was further justified in 1948 when the Soviets blockaded Berlin. Only the outstanding performance of President Harry Truman’s US Army Air Force in the Berlin Airlift avoided another war. This incident led to the formation in 1949 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to protect Europe from the Soviet Union.
The ultimate concern of the NATO countries with Ukraine (not a member of NATO – although they want to join) is the same that Chamberlain faced in in 1938 with the Nazis, namely, that Russia will keep conquering one country after another until they control all the European countries – by far the major trading partners of the United States. Already, Russian President Vladimir Putin has added Georgia, Belarus, and Crimea and now he is threatening Ukraine (again). At some point in this scenario, World War III would start. Nevertheless, the objections to US involvement in Ukraine are already starting in America.
The force that stands in the way is NATO. It was formed for this purpose and has been successful for 72 years. The mainstay of this alliance on the European continent has been Germany, the most prosperous nation in Europe. However, Germany has a soft underbelly, namely its lack of sufficient sources of energy to support its population. This has become a critical concern of German authorities in recent years.
The closest source for 40% of the energy Germany needs is the new Nord Stream Pipeline which has been built under the Baltic Sea to link Russian oil directly to Germany. This creates a dependence of Europe’s largest and most prosperous nation on the European continent to the Russian Federation. This dependence gives Russia a potential weapon which can be used at any time to cripple the German economy as well as that of France.
The Trump administration dealt with this threat by succeeding in stopping the construction of the pipeline and substituting American energy for Russian energy, thus diffusing the entire issue. At the same time, President Trump strengthened NATO by requiring member nations to contribute their share of the cost of the Alliance and re-arming Poland and other nations bordering Russia one more time. Putin’s hands were tied by this strategy and the threat of war averted.
Joe Biden doesn’t’ have any of these levers. With childish delight he killed America’s energy industry, so that instead of supplying Europe with LNG, we are now pleading with Putin to sell us more of his supply. We have gone from seller to buyer. Biden has painted himself into a corner.
To add to his inept diplomacy, his administration has openly threatened Russia with an American cyber attack, not realizing apparently that American intelligence is unanimous in estimating that Russian cyber warfare capabilities exceed America’s. Russia is thought to possess EMP (electromagnetic pulse) technology which could cause a nuclear explosion powerful enough to cripple our entire electrical grid – a catastrophic weapon. The Americans have spent little on hardening our electrical grid, and our military spends more time on CRT briefings than on developing an offensive EMP weapon. So, Biden is playing with fire. We can only hope that we don’t get burned.
The bottom line is that there are consequences to every major action of an American president. To ignore these consequences is to disqualify oneself and one’s advisors from office.
Maybe impeachment isn’t such a bad idea after all. . .
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reenergized the Trans-Atlantic alliance in a manner unthinkable just two years ago. President Donald Trump entered office in 2017 with a deeply skeptical view of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the role of the United States as the world’s policeman and guarantor of European and Pacific security. He deliberately kept vague his administration’s commitment to uphold Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which commits member states to treat an attack on any one of them as an attack on all of them and to take appropriate action “to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
President Joe Biden entered office last year intent on reestablishing the credibility of the Trans-Atlantic alliance and reaffirming the U.S. commitment to NATO. Two weeks after taking the oath of office, Biden stated unequivocally that “America is back…we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.” At the 31st summit of NATO leaders in June 2021, Biden reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to NATO, while alliance leaders highlighted the challenges posed by a strengthening China and resurging Russia.
Perhaps because they did not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin would go so far as to roll the iron dice and invade Ukraine, alliance leaders did not issue a declaratory statement, or create a “red line,” on what would happen if he actually did so. When as many as 200,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders and then invaded, Biden sent thousands of additional U.S. troops to Eastern Europe but explicitly stated that they would not enter Ukrainian territory to assist in the defense of that country. Biden, along with other NATO leaders, fashioned a set of responses to Russian aggression to include a commitment to “defend every inch of NATO territory,” severe economic sanctions (albeit not against Russian export to Europe of badly needed oil and gas), arming Ukraine with defensive weapons such as Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, diplomatically isolating Russia, and going after the assets of Russian oligarchs who benefitted from Putin’s rule. The response by Western leaders has been united and forceful, which undoubtedly surprised Putin, who viewed the West as weak and divided. Instead of making Russia great again, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine made NATO essential again.
The modern idea of a united alliance of great powers intent on deterring conflict is a century old, an outgrowth of the catastrophic Great War that nearly destroyed Europe’s faith in Western civilization. In the aftermath of that titanic struggle, the Big Four at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles—French Premier Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson—agreed to create a League of Nations, an international body that would adjudicate and resolve international disputes, thus preventing a repeat of the seemingly accidental plunge into world war in 1914 and the resulting slaughter of a generation of youth in the trenches. The United States, however, never joined the League, with the U.S. Senate’s refusal to ratify the Treaty of Versailles resulting in the retreat of the United States into isolation in the Western Hemisphere, seemingly protected by two great oceans.
The League of Nations, nevertheless, appeared to hold promise. The Locarno Pact of 1925, which resolved Germany’s western borders, led to the inclusion of Germany into the League the following year with a permanent seat on the League Council. Nevertheless, the era of mutual security in Europe was short-lived. Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 led to the subversion of the Versailles Treaty, which became a dead letter upon the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936 by German forces. In Asia, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933 after a League commission found Japanese forces had illegally occupied Manchuria. An Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 led the League to invoke economic sanctions, but France and Great Britain rescinded their support early the next year and allowed Italy to annex its illegally confiscated African possession. The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, enacted three Neutrality Acts designed to prevent the United States from slipping into war as many believed it had done without much thought in 1917. Lacking widespread support for the hard decisions required to ensure collective security and without the support of the United States, the League withered and died with the onset of World War II.
The victory of the Grand Alliance in that second and even more cataclysmic worldwide conflict led to another and more successful attempt at establishing collective security. The United Nations charter was signed in San Francisco on June 25, 1945, with the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China holding permanent seats on the Security Council. The onset of the Cold War and the defeat of Nationalist forces in China, however, made consensus in that body difficult, with the lone exception of the Korean War, when a Soviet boycott of the United Nations in protest against Nationalist China maintaining its seat in the body enabled the United States to sponsor a resolution condemning the North Korean attack on South Korea and authorizing the use of force to repel the invading army. UN forces remain on guard along the 38th Parallel to this day.
Given the inability of the United Nations to maintain collective security, the United States and its European and North American allies established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 to provide for collective defense, to prevent the reemergence of militaristic governments in Western Europe, and to stimulate political integration of member states. Bilateral U.S. defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, and Australia likewise provided a degree of collective security in the Pacific. These defense pacts prevented the outbreak of global hostilities and provided security for the global commons, leading to a new era of globalization and massive economic growth.
NATO is arguably the most successful alliance in history. For forty years it deterred a Soviet attack on Western Europe and provided a defense umbrella under which Europe grew both peaceful and prosperous. Germany was allowed to rearm under NATO auspices, and by the 1980s NATO possessed significant conventional capabilities to accompany its nuclear deterrent forces. It more than achieved its purpose, according to Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary General, to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, led some to question the necessity for or viability of the alliance. The breakup of Yugoslavia and the descent of Bosnia and Herzegovina into civil war eventually led to a NATO-sponsored intervention that halted the fighting and stabilized the Balkans. NATO’s purpose, it turned out, was what it had always been—to keep the European continent stable and at peace. After terrorists launched attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty was invoked for the first time ever, and NATO aircraft patrolled the skies over U.S. cities for a short time.
For more ambitious American and European policy makers, NATO was seen not as a relic of the Cold War past, but as an avenue to the future. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO sought a new purpose in expanding the zone of democracy in Europe. Several rounds of enlargement expanded NATO relentlessly to the east, until it ran into the Russian border. Although Russian leaders were powerless to stop the advance, they were as it turns out less than enthralled by the prospect of having the world’s most powerful military alliance on their doorstep.
In 2005 Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in a speech to the Duma that “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Putin’s desire to make Russia great again by rebuilding its military capabilities, linking the former Soviet Socialist Republics with Moscow, and dominating what Russian leaders refer to as the “near abroad” was clear enough. Putin directed invasions of Chechnya in 1999 and Georgia in 2008, ordered the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and created puppet governments in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine after sparking a Ukrainian civil war in 2014. The purpose of the latter actions was to create “frozen conflicts” that would prevent NATO from admitting Georgia or Ukraine, as the alliance has never before embraced new members that had outstanding border disputes.
As the world discovered just a few weeks ago, these measures were insufficient to assuage Putin’s ambitions. He desired not just a neutered Ukraine, but a subservient one. Putin never reconciled himself to the ousting in 2014 of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow government in a struggle over whether Ukraine would join the European Union, headquartered in Brussels, or the Eurasian Economic Union, headquartered in Moscow. Ukrainians overwhelmingly wanted to look west for their future and took to the streets in massive numbers to make their point. To Putin, the Maidan Revolution was a western-inspired coup that severed Ukraine from its rightful place as the largest entity in Russia’s orbit.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has smacked Western leaders over the head with a two by four of reality. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced an increase in defense spending in his country to more than 2 percent of GDP, a figure that would put Germany ahead of Russia in military spending and which shows how deeply unsettling the Ukraine War has been to one of the most pacifist nations in Europe. President Biden has also earmarked increased funding for the U.S. armed forces, requesting $813B for national defense in FY 2023, with additional increases in the out years. Other NATO countries are likely to follow suit and strengthen their militaries.
Of course, the world has seen this emphasis on defense and deterrence come and go before. After World War II the United States demobilized, only to reverse course and maintain sustained high levels of defense spending from the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 to the Gulf War of 1991. The peace dividend of the 1990s ended in 2001 with the crash of airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Europe’s peace dividend lasted longer, but with Russian tanks rolling onto the Ukrainian steppes, the Continent is rearming. The West is united in opposing Russian aggression and is willing to back up that position with substantial resources and diplomatic clout. This posture has its limits, mainly in Asia, where China is taking a muscular stance towards Taiwan and its neighbors in the South China Sea but maintains significant economic leverage over its trading partners to temper their responses. European nations have also yet to wean themselves off of Russian oil and gas, which places limits on their ability to deter Putin’s adventurism.
Unless the West can come together economically in a manner that complements their military prowess, the current state of unity might be fleeting. At stake is the future of globalization, the prospect of collective deterrence of state-sponsored aggression, and the fate of the world’s democracies. Western policy makers must act decisively to ensure the Free World remains strong and united, even as the iron dice roll across the Eurasian heartland.
The annals of human history are filled with innumerable acts of barbarism and tyranny committed by ruthless warmongers, religious fanatics and their ethnically hate-filled genocidal followers. After the countless battery of heinous crimes committed by Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union and Japan’s Imperial Military before and during World War II, it was rightly expected that the light of humanism finally would emerge triumphant over the dark forces of Fascism, National Socialism, military Imperialism and the Soviet Union’s depraved utopian Communism. However, while Germany, Italy, Japan and their former allies completely renounced Imperialism, Fascism as well as National Socialism, Russia’s leaders have never abandoned their tyrannical and revanchist domestic as well as foreign policies to restore the putative “greatness” of the thoroughly discredited Soviet Union with its colonial empire. To wit, by the leaders of the newly minted Russian Federation, the terms Fascism, Nazism and Imperialism have been misused to emphasize their irreconcilable enmity and their fallacious use of the most strategic engagement in their quest for the restoration of the status quo ante – their uncompromising confrontation with the United States of America as well as the rest of the world.
Accordingly, from his original installation by former President Yeltsin as the new tyrant of the Russian Federation at the end of 1999, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has labored to recreate the Soviet Union under the old Tsarist ideology of Official Nationality. Composed of Pan Slavism, known also as transcendent Christian Orthodoxy; Autocracy, meaning the so-called governing elite’s tyrannical supremacy; and Nationality, depicted as the racial superiority of the Russian narodnost cum nation. Moreover, in his capacities as President and Prime Minister, Putin has been on a mission to reassure the Russian people that the Soviet Union’s disintegration was due to the hostile machinations of foreign powers, not to the internal and international weaknesses of the pseudo Communist empire. The empire was only gone temporarily, he concluded. The emergence of the Russian Federation, like the mythological Phoenix rising from the eternal fire, constitutes a victory, not a defeat, he stated. Finally, the resurrection of historical Russia is the clearest proof that the sufferings of the Russian nation will be reversed by him. Be patient and courageous, he intoned, and I will conquer Russia’s enemies and the world.
Concurrently, a succession of American presidents have labored under the assumption that the leaders of the Russian Federation desire to politically democratize and economically modernize their realm. The common characteristic of their views of Russia has been the utter lack of knowledge and understanding of Russian history, Russian culture and the mentality of the Russian people. Hence, President Clinton’s “peace dividend,” President George W. Bush’s “I looked the man in the eye” amateurish fallacy, President Obama’s vainglorious belief in his imaginary brain powers, President Trump’s faith in his “art of the deal” ability, and President Biden’s non-existent experience as well as almost zero knowledge of European and world history, have only contributed to the enhanced geostrategic confusion of the post-Soviet era.
As historians and politicians incessantly remind us, the histories of individual countries, regions and continents are interconnected. In general, they also note that the more things change the more they remain the same. Lastly, they bemoan the fact that the ever changing politics of the day usually negatively affect the appreciation of history. Yet, interconnection does not mean uniformity, advancement does not always signal progress, and politically tainted interpretation and reinterpretation of the past as well as the present do not necessarily result in positive transformation of nations and societies. Objectively, the histories of different countries that are interconnected have shown, more often than not, distinctly disparate interpretations of real as well as invented traditions, leaving their histories with substantive triviality which prevents these societies and nations from proceeding toward establishing complete democracies.
Russia’s war on Ukraine is an unrelievedly grim tale of both countries’ historical inability to overcome the past collapses of their antediluvian orders. The resulting political, intellectual, cultural and moral madness always led to extraordinary convolutions. Specifically, behind the demolition artist Putin there lurks the primitive, misinformed, exploited and wretched masses of the Russian people. Conversely, behind the increasingly heroic persona of Zelenskyy stands the combined force of the heterogeneous Ukrainian nation that in its overwhelming majority desires to move west from its traditional eastern roots.
Contrary to the superficial and thus erroneous impression of most politicians and media analysts, Putin has been a living enigma without a rational reason. Obsessed by his Russian inferiority complex and fear of Western intellectual and cultural superiority, Putin was awestruck by the alacrity of German reunification. These feelings of citizen Putin were compounded by the chaotic and violent events of the first decade of the newly minted Russian Federation under President Yeltsin. Thus, when appointed Prime Minister on August 9, 1999, his first act of revenge was his brutal military operation against the independence movement of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria against the Russian Federation. For Putin, the two-year war in Chechnya, dubbed the Second Chechen War, was also a crusade to prove that in Putin’s Russian Federation the right of self-determination of peoples and nations will not be tolerated. More importantly, he showed that the strongest nation in the region has no legal or moral responsibilities to respect international and domestic laws which it signed, such as the Peace Treaty of 1997 after the First Chechen War between 1994-1996. The 1999 war on Chechnya demonstrated that the mightier nation can murder indiscriminately, steal, rape and lie at will. The result was deep hatred toward Putin and everything Russian by those whom the former should have respected and treated as equal. Even more egregiously, Putin’s war against the Chechens was an unambiguous declaration that he does not recognize self-discipline as a guiding principle of any political order, be it domestic or international. By doing so, Putin made it crystal clear that as president he will be driven by ruthless and indiscriminate violence as well as horrible inhumanity. More than two decades later, in February 2022, he proved that his infinite barbarism knows no bounds, and that his lack of self-control could become suicidal.
His illegal war on Ukraine is only the first salvo in his relentless and uncompromising quest to establish a new world order. According to numerous statements by President Putin and his Foreign Minister Lavrov, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has been designed to put an end to the US-dominated international regime: “Our special military operation is meant to put an end to the unabashed expansion [of NATO] and the unabashed drive towards full domination by the US and its Western subjects on the world stage,” did the latter intone on Rossiya 24 news channel. Moreover: “This domination is built on gross violations of international law and under some rules, which they are now hyping so much and which they make up on a case-by-case basis.” Finally, he blasted the European Union’s foreign policy commissioner Josep Borrell thus: “When a diplomatic chief …says a certain conflict can only be resolved through military action…Well, it must be something personal. He either misspoke or spoke without thinking, making statements that nobody asked him to make. But it’s an outrageous remark.” In closing, he assured his interviewer that Russia wants a negotiated peace with Ukraine.
What hypocrisy? What outrage? What lies? Starting with the Kremlin’s declared objectives when the illegal invasion begun to “DeNazify” and to “teach Kyiv’s drug edicts” to implement the Minsk agreements signed in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and concluding with the demand that Kyiv recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimea as well as the fraudulent independence of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Luhansk, the Kremlin has incessantly upped the ante against Ukraine. Most recently, President Putin has demanded that Kyiv officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO and the European Union.
Clearly, President Putin’s goals are unattainable by peaceful means. His stated intention to reestablish the Soviet Union and beyond means wars that will rapidly multiply without ends in sight. Moreover, these wars will become so lengthy, so bloody and so costly, that they will surely destroy Russia and at least the neighboring countries. Finally, the attacks on the well established principles of international law, humanitarianism and reason, will elevate brute force and unlimited violence to the supreme principle of international relations. What President Putin really demands is the complete barbarization of the world through ubiquitous militarization. This demand, however, demonstrates that he lacks even a modicum of educated intellect to comprehend the realities of world politics. Most importantly, he is absolutely oblivious to the fact that wars for the sake of mindless destruction and which never end will lose their political efficacy. The world cannot allow itself to be led by a barbarian with sub-intelligence to total annihilation. Shockingly, the Biden administration has chosen from the beginning of the war Obama’s “leading from behind” approach. Personally, President Biden is mentally unfit to lead anything. He is a failed president who belongs to a mental institution rather than in the White House. In the presidency, his shuffling connotes stagnation and even walking backwards. In politics, this kind of glaring weakness exposes a politician to assault. Ignoring President Putin’s grand design will result in worldwide catastrophe. Unless Congress realizes that the world is at a crossroads and forces him to change course, the world will perish. The United States of America cannot be wrong a second time. For these reasons, if the United States of America will not lead the world and do not unite against President Putin’s barbarism, the Ukrainian genocide will become the beginning of the end for human civilization on this earth.
It is bitterly ironic that just as world leaders and diplomats were gathering in Munich to participate in the annual Security Conference, the threat of enormous insecurity loomed menacingly over Ukraine. Meanwhile Russia, in collaboration with Belarus, tested ballistic and cruise missiles, clearly intended as a reminder that Russia is prepared to escalate the conflict. Against that backdrop, China came out in support of Russia’s demand that Ukraine be forever excluded from NATO, as if Beijing has the right to limit the political choices of independent countries. With that support, Russia invaded Ukraine. Major land war in Europe has returned.
How this confrontation will yet play out and what strategies the US and the West should pursue in the Ukraine crisis are questions that lie far beyond the scope of this essay in the Caravan, which is devoted to issues in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Of course, there is one direct connection to the Middle East in the shape of the strong support Ukraine has been receiving from Turkey, both of which are Black Sea powers: the Ukraine war can also become a Black Sea war and therefore relevant to Middle East strategizing–and then there is the question of the impact on oil prices.
Yet the real implication for the Middle East is different and on a higher level. The US, which is the ultimate guarantor of the international order–in the Middle East and elsewhere–faces a combined threat from Russia, China and their de facto companions, Iran and North Korea. Their goal is to reduce American influence across Eurasia and in the Pacific. Russia wants Ukraine, and China is planning on seizing Taiwan not only for the specific territorial gains but in order to degrade the credibility of the US in international affairs.
This consideration is the focus for all the foreign policy discussions since the Obama administration concerning a “pivot to Asia” or, in the less catchy phrasing, a deprioritization of the Middle East. According to one version of the argument, China is the ultimate challenge to US hegemony in the twenty-first century and therefore the US should redeploy its military assets away from the Middle East, moving them to the Indo-Pacific in order to contain China there. Yet as correct as this assessment of the Chinese challenge is, the conclusion is wrong. Russia has just reminded the world that China is not the only threat. As far as the Middle East is concerned, ceding advantages there in order to expand investments in the Pacific will only create a vacuum which our adversaries will exploit. Russia is already ensconced in Latakia in Syria, and China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti. If we move out, our enemies move in. Because the conflict is global, there is in fact no part of the globe we can leave without benefit to our opponents: see Afghanistan.
Yet at the same time, domestic resource constraints increasingly limit US ability to project power around the world, given the dynamics of the federal budget under pressure from entitlements, unleashed inflation, and debt. Add to this the political pressure of isolationism on the left and on the right, which will increasingly limit defense spending and direct deployments. We are between a rock and a hard place: straddling the urgency of maintaining power to push back against ambitious adversaries and a systemic cap on the resources necessary to support that power.
There is a clear solution to this problem: building networks of allies. While Washington is the strongest voice in the current response to Moscow, the western stance is based on NATO, which, despite the disappearance of the Soviet Union, apparently does still have a role to play, thanks to Putin’s revanchism. In the Indo-Pacific the Quad–Japan, India, Australia, and the US–has emerged as a comparably powerful network, as different as it is from NATO. However, alliances by definition bring together several sovereign states, and they can therefore present challenges, due to divergent, if not fully antagonistic interests. Such intra-alliance diversity requires perpetual diplomatic skill to manage, but in the agonistic context of competing superpowers, it is better to have allies than to stand alone. Indeed, the Russian goal has long involved efforts to split the US from its European allies.
And the lesson for US policy in the Middle East? The Middle East lacks a security architecture comparable to NATO or the Quad. US diplomacy should take a lead in building it. Obviously, any security arrangement in the Middle East will not be identical to either NATO or the Quad because of the different circumstances, histories and geographies. However, in the face of intrusions by Russia and China and the efforts at regional destabilization by Iran, and given the implausibility of any major US military reengagement in the region, we need an alliance structure to maintain order, protect freedom of navigation, engage in counter-terrorism and counter malign activities supported by our adversaries.
Fortunately, a number of factors have set the stage for US leadership to build a network of like-minded states. It is now up to Washington to seize this historic opportunity. The current Israeli government is ideologically broad, including, for the first time, an Arab party as part of the governing coalition. Israeli diplomacy has also built important bridges to some Arab states in the wake of the Abraham Accords. The western inclination of key Gulf states is being reinforced by interests in technological integration as well their threat perception concerning Iranian ambitions. The Saudi government has been carrying out a bold reform process unimaginable only a few years ago. Last but by no means least, the red thread that could pull these diverse elements together is the powerful presence of India, whose relations with Israel are flourishing and whose presence in the Gulf, in terms of investment and diaspora populations, is unmistakable. Because it is in American interest to oppose China’s Belt and Road initiative, which has made substantial inroads in the region, India is surely a likely partner to counter Beijing and could become the cornerstone of a larger regional security strategy, stretching from the Indo-Pacific to the Suez Canal and into the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps even to Turkey.
That is a grand vision that will require committed American diplomatic leadership. There are also undeniable obstacles. Some problems are relatively local and specific, such as differences among the Gulf states, which Washington could work to resolve. The Palestinian question has lost much of its prominence, but it persists nonetheless; given current leadership in Gaza and Ramallah it may be intractable, but a compromise solution ought to be in reach. The Biden administration’s unwillingness to back Saudi Arabia firmly against missile attacks by the Houthis in Yemen is bizarre and should be corrected.
With regard to each of the large states that could become the anchors of a security network–Saudi Arabia, India and potentially Turkey–bilateral relations with the Washington are stuck in unproductive ways: for India and Turkey because of their S-400 purchases and the deleterious role played by sanctions based on CAATSA legislation, and for Saudi Arabia the animosity toward the Crown Prince in the wake of the Khashoggi killing. Potential partners are surely not always blameless, but American foreign policy leadership has to ask some tough questions. Does standing on principle obstruct larger American strategic interests? Entering into a partnership with another country does not mean a blanket endorsement of all of its policies, but it can mean building a partnership to withstand a larger adversary.
In fact, entering into a partnership may even increase the leverage America has to influence a partner’s policies, particularly in the area of human rights. This is an issue relevant to all three countries (and not only them of course). At the very least, Washington has to grapple with the question of whether it will treat criticism of rights issues in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and India as reasons to refrain from entering into an alliance structure. Pursuit of rights and pursuit of international security are both legitimate and positive goals; political leadership should find a way to navigate the competition between them and find the right balance.
Finally, the geostrategic perspectives of the various countries that might be part of a Middle East security structure are by no means identical. As the US is perceived to be withdrawing from the area, some regional states are hedging their bets. As Washington cold-shouldered Mohammed bin Salman, he could fly to Beijing, because in a multipolar world, countries have more than one option. Given the ambiguity of US positions in Syria, Israel has had to coordinate with Russia in its attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian positions there. India remains open to Iran, given long-standing historical ties, in obvious contrast to the US. More perplexing was India’s decision to abstain from the UN Security Council vote calling for a General Assembly emergency session on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether this was an indication of vestigial affinity for Russia or an effort to carve out a diplomatic role as a potential mediator between the sides of the conflict.
Organizing a security structure in this vast region will not be an easy puzzle to solve, but doing so is vital for US interests in the face of competitive adversaries. Washington should devote considerable diplomatic energy–and other resources–to build connections linking India through the Gulf and into the core of the Middle East. One might think of this as a multidimensional expansion of the Abraham Accords across a much larger expanse. The payoff in terms of regional stability and maintaining American influence could be long-lasting.
The confusion over providing fighter jets to Ukraine underscores a dangerous reality: NATO has no end-game and no off-ramps for this war.
A remarkable exchange took place earlier this week between the United States and Poland, which shares a long border with Ukraine and likely would be first to get hit by Russian forces if the war expands beyond Ukrainian territory. The exchange was not only embarrassing, highlighting the U.S. State Department’s incompetence, but it underscores what can only be described as a complete absence of strategy among the NATO allies, which appear to have no end-game and no off-ramps in mind for Ukraine and Russia.
Here’s what happened. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Sunday that Poland has a “green light” to provide fighter jets to the Ukrainian air force, adding that the U.S. was working with Poland to find a way to replace MiG-29 jets (which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly and fight) that might be sent to Ukraine with American F-16s.https://d26db64193801a286bbefe4cc520e1de.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
News quickly spread on Monday that the U.S. and Poland had reached such a deal, and that dozens of Polish MiG-29s were in fact going to supplement Ukraine’s war effort. If true, that would have been a shocking escalation on the part of NATO. It’s easy to see how Russia could then claim that Poland, by putting its own warplanes in the fight, was now a belligerent in the conflict, and then justify expanding the war into Eastern Europe.
But it wasn’t true — not quite. Poland, acutely aware of what Moscow’s likely response would be if dozens of Polish warplanes flown by Ukrainian pilots crossed from Poland into Ukraine and started hitting Russian targets, issued a curious statement on Tuesday. The Polish Foreign Ministry said it was ready to deploy, free of charge, all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, “and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.”
The statement went on to request that the U.S. “provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities. Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes. The Polish Government also requests other NATO Allies — owners of MIG-29 jets — to act in the same vein.”
This move by Poland apparently caught the U.S. State Department completely off-guard. Later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby responded to the Polish proposal, which he said, “shows just some of the complexities this issue presents.”
The prospect of fighter jets “at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America” departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance. It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one.
What can we conclude from this bizarre back-and-forth? First, that Blinken’s “green light” comment Sunday was made without consulting Poland or our other NATO allies. Second, that Poland’s statement Tuesday was a not-too-subtle attempt to shift the responsibility for the entire scheme to the United States. Essentially, Poland was saying that if the U.S. government wants to aide Ukraine by giving it warplanes, Poland would not be the one to transfer or even facilitate the transfer of those aircraft onto the battlefield. They would have to come from a U.S. air base, not Poland.
Lastly, the U.S. response reveals that despite Blinken’s reckless comment, the U.S. has not thought seriously about how any of this would work, and what might or might not give Moscow a casus belli to attack Polish or NATO targets in Eastern Europe.
In other words, there is no NATO strategy, either to assist Ukraine in a way that would turn the tide of the war or to imagine an end-game that’s something less than a total Russian defeat. Last week, Blinken articulated what can best be described as a maximalist policy for the war: “We have to sustain this until it stops, until the war is over, Russian forces leave, the Ukrainian people regain their independence, their sovereignty, their territorial integrity. We’re committed to doing that.”
So the apparent position of the U.S. government is that it must help Ukraine to bring about a complete humiliating Russian withdrawal, something like the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 — or the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, for that matter. If the NATO allies are worried that Russia will widen the war over a couple dozen Polish MiG-29s, what do they think the Kremlin will do to avoid the kind of defeat that Blinken has laid out? Have they thought about the possibility that Russia would use tactical nuclear weapons to avoid that kind of defeat? It sure doesn’t seem like it.
Setting all that aside, though, the U.S. and our NATO allies have just demonstrated to Russia and the entire world that we have no plan to provide Ukraine with warplanes, let alone tanks or troops or other advanced weapon systems. The NATO allies obviously don’t even agree on how that might be done in theory, and they apparently are not talking to one another about it behind closed doors but issuing embarrassing and contradictory statements in public.
As my colleague Eddie Scarry notes, all of this blows up the polite fiction that President Joe Biden is providing strong NATO leadership, and that the alliance is solid and united in confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It also blows up the notion, increasingly popular among neocons in the corporate press and in Washington, that NATO is able to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine and can be pressured into doing so. If the Poles won’t even allow its MiG-29s to be transferred to Ukraine via Polish airspace, why would they agree to send sorties out from Poland to engage and shoot down Russian warplanes? Why would smaller NATO allies in the Baltics?
They won’t — and they shouldn’t, because doing so would be an act of war that would pull the entire NATO alliance into an armed conflict with Russia. Likewise, funneling warplanes and other heavy weapons into Ukraine will bring NATO right up to and arguably well past the line of belligerence. To paraphrase the Pentagon, the proposal is not a tenable one.
But he can be resisted
Vladimir Putin has deployed some 100,000 troops to Russia’s border with Ukraine. He has moved fighter jets and antiaircraft defenses into neighboring Belarus. He has around 6,000 soldiers, as well as air and naval assets, in Crimea, the peninsula in south Ukraine that he annexed illegally eight years ago. His insurgents have waged a “frozen conflict” in east Ukraine for close to a decade. His digital army launches routine cyberattacks against Ukrainian infrastructure. And yet, if you listen to “realist” foreign policy analysts, all this is somehow America’s fault.
It was a mistake to allow former provinces and satellites of the USSR to join NATO, we are told. It is hubris to believe that one day Ukraine might join NATO and the EU. It would be reckless to deploy U.S. troops to defend Ukraine (a policy President Joe Biden has ruled out explicitly). America is overstretched, the realists go on. It is inward-looking and uninterested in the fate of freedom in Eastern Europe. Better to provide Putin an “off-ramp” from the present crisis. Better to declare, once and for all, that Ukraine will never join the Western alliance. Putin might be satisfied with a veto over NATO membership. He might stand down. He might save face.
True, Putin might not invade Ukraine if America and NATO acquiesce to his most recent demands. But he would soon make new demands, new threats, and new incursions. History teaches as much. Appease Putin? The West has tried exactly that for over a decade. And the West has nothing to show for it. Putin hasn’t been satisfied with diplomatic overtures. He isn’t deterred by slaps on the wrist. Putin keeps asking for more.
The Russian strongman announced his turn toward bellicosity at the Munich security conference in 2007. Flush with cash from high oil prices and gloating over America’s difficulties in Iraq, Putin assailed the “unipolar model” of American global leadership as “not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world.” He called the deployment of antiballistic missile systems in Europe provocative and the “next step of what would be, in this case, an inevitable arms race.” He said that NATO expansion was “a serious provocation” intended to weaken Russia. The history of his country “spans more than a thousand years,” Putin lectured. Russia “has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy.” This wasn’t an academic lesson. It was a warning.
Message delivered. The implicit threat split Europe. At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, President George W. Bush wanted the alliance to issue “Membership Action Plans,” or MAPs, to Georgia and Ukraine. He was overruled. No MAPs were offered. Instead, NATO promised that one day both countries would be members. NATO thought it could placate Russia. Ukraine and Georgia tried to make the best of a wispy, abstract pledge. They held out hope that NATO would make good on its word. They were naïve.
Putin read the situation more accurately. Europe was trying to be nice, to keep the bear happy. He could carry out his “independent foreign policy.” A few months later, Russia invaded Georgia on the slimmest of pretexts. Russian tanks approached the capital, Tbilisi, before falling back to the line of control. Georgia’s democratic government was preserved—for a while. In the years since, Putin manipulated Georgia’s politics by proxy and diminished the country’s hopes for independence, for a flourishing civil society. The Western response was light—a rush to negotiations, a few economic sanctions, a lot of “concerns” and “calls.” Not enough to reverse Putin’s gains.
Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 was an alarm. We slept through it. One of the war’s many consequences was that Senator Barack Obama named as his running mate the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. Once in office, Obama, Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched an effort to “reset” relations with Russia. Obama canceled missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland. He signed the New START Treaty limiting nuclear weapons. He involved Russia more closely in nonproliferation efforts and in diplomacy with Iran and North Korea. He aided Russia’s effort to join the World Trade Organization. According to a White House press release issued in 2010, “President Obama and his administration have sought to engage the Russian government to pursue foreign policy goals of common interest—win-win outcomes—for the American and Russian people.”
Putin doesn’t believe in win-win outcomes. He believes in win-lose outcomes: Putin wins, you lose. Obama crashed against a wall of atavism and paranoia. Putin became convinced that Hillary Clinton was behind the 2011 antigovernment protests in Moscow. He blamed U.S. officials, not native Ukrainian sentiment, for the 2014 Maidan protests that toppled the government of pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych. (Yanukovych fled to Russia, where he remains.) Weeks after the Maidan revolution, Putin ordered the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of east Ukraine. The West responded with another round of denunciations and sanctions. Putin shrugged them off. In 2015 he deployed Russian troops to Syria. In 2016 he interfered in the U.S. presidential election. Obama left office with U.S.-Russian relations at a low point. The open hand had been met with a clenched fist.
Why? Because Putin’s aims are different from our own. He wants to resurrect the Russian empire. He wants to undermine the post-Cold War settlement. American foreign policy, meanwhile, alternates between bouts of democratic idealism and episodes of sullen retrenchment. Putin is lucky: His rule coincides with a long spell of American self-doubt and withdrawal from world leadership. Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, also tried to reset relations with Russia. He wanted to appeal to Putin on a personal level. It didn’t take. Putin doesn’t want a friend. He wants facts on the ground to strengthen Russia’s international position. He wants to solidify his rule. On this and other topics, the Trump era had a schizophrenic quality. Trump had nothing but nice words for Putin, yet Trump’s energy, defense, and strategic weapons policies undermined Russian interests. Neither the first nor the last man to be confused by Trump, Putin bided his time.
His moment arrived in 2021. Joe Biden is now the fourth U.S. president to take office with the desire to improve relations with Russia. Biden immediately renewed New START. He took little public action to respond to Russian cyber-offensives. He canceled the Keystone XL pipeline at home and didn’t apply sanctions to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would feed natural gas directly from Russia to Western Europe. He involved Russia in talks to resume the Iran nuclear deal. He left Afghanistan in violent chaos. When Putin built up his forces around Ukraine in the spring of 2021, Biden granted him an in-person summit in Geneva and launched a U.S.-Russian nuclear dialogue. When Putin resumed pounding the war drums, he and Biden held a remote summit last December. Biden took Putin’s phone call on December 30. He and his secretary of state maintain that there is a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. “So, there’s room to work if he wants to do that,” Biden said at his press conference the other week. “But I think, as usual, he’s going to—well, I probably shouldn’t go any further.”
No, Joe, you really shouldn’t. It’s far past time to recognize that Vladimir Putin can’t be appeased. He can only be deterred and resisted. And the moment to act, to establish facts on the ground that serve our purposes, is now. Before Putin asks for more. Before it’s too late.
After having qualified for the UEFA European Championship 2020, Hungary finished last in its group that included France, Germany and Portugal too. The two ties, 1:1 and 2:2 respectively against France and Germany were celebrated as actual victories, while the 0:3 defeat to Portugal in Budapest was hailed as a quasi-triumph on the account that the match stood 0:0 until the 84th minute. The Prime Minister Viktor Orban, members of his cabinet as well as top functionaries of his FIDESZ party, and the more excitable fans celebrated the actual elimination of the national team from the most important European competition as a clear sign that Hungary’s redemption from domestic and international oblivion has taken a decisive step forward.
Contrary to the one-party rule propaganda, the grim reality is that the Viktor Orban-led Hungary is in multiple crises. Since 2010, when the Hungarian voters in their boundless naivete rewarded Viktor Orban with two-thirds majority, the country has gradually reverted to the pre-1990s one party rule. As in the old Communist times, a single individual controls everything, from all three branches of the government, through the nation’s economy, to the written and electronic media.
Indeed, as during the Soviet occupation, the fear of the despotic powers has overcome the population. Life, property and personal freedoms have been subject to arbitrary decisions. Ownership of lands and successful businesses have been unsafe from well-connected greedy individuals who have enjoyed impunity from illegal acts by the FIDESZ-controlled police and prosecutorial authorities. Corruption has been pervasive, systematic and thus out of control. The well-educated have been leaving Hungary in droves. Young people have seen no future for themselves and their children in a country that does not value knowledge, experience and merit-based accomplishments. Nepotism and loyalty to Viktor Orban have been the new symbolic “little red Communist party membership cards” to professional and financial success.
Meanwhile, investments in the productive sectors of the economy, in education and in health care have been almost non-existent. Yet, monies have been poured unaccounted into erecting an irrational number of soccer stadiums, building other sport-related facilities and attempting to secure the rights to organize a variety of European and World competitions in Hungary. Under Orban, soccer has become the great political unifier of the Hungarian nation. In the government propaganda, Viktor Orban has reminded Hungarians incessantly that the country’s national soccer team represents more than a team. According to him, it embodies Hungary with its past, present and future. His slogan “We are bound together by the Red, the White and the Green” references the national colors of Hungary. To add an oversized enthusiasm to this absurd and existentially meaningless political hype, Viktor Orban also claims that “Together we are the greatest team.”
All this should serve as a spooky reminder to the morbid practices of the East German and the Romanian Communist leaders. Erich Honecker, the long serving Communist leader in East Berlin sank huge sums of money into a wide assortment of sports to prove the superiority of his political regime vis-a-vis the truly democratic Federal Republic of Germany. In the same spirit, the other Communist despot in Bucharest Nicolae Ceausescu feverishly built soccer stadiums, the majority of which was never used during his lifetime. East Germany disappeared from the map following the successful unification of the divided Germany on October 3, 1990. Nicolae Ceaușescu was summarily tried and executed immediately thereafter with his wife by a firing squad on December 25, 1989. Today, heirs to these dead Communists are Viktor Orban and his pal on the crossroads of Europe and Asia Recep Tayip Erdogan. However, as in East Germany and Romania of the not so distant past, only the mentally handicaped think in Hungary and Turkey that their respective countries’ general situation would improve because of the progressive performance of their soccer teams.
In addition to expediting the erosion of the nation’s value system, Viktor Orban’s self-serving and narcissistic psychopathy has contributed to the disintegration from within the post-Communist Hungarian society. Having been a Dopey Ignoramus by nature, Viktor Orban reminds Hungarians of their past and present miseries and their innermost feelings that their country historically has constantly been under siege by external enemies. For this reason, he has suggested that the present hostility from NATO and the European Union toward Hungary must be countered domestically by a pervasive government oversight and vigilant interventions in every aspect of the citizens’ lives.
Under the current structure of the one-party state, in which Viktor Orban’s utterances cannot be challenged, his exaggerated and aggressive chauvinism has created a thriving cult of paranoia. Thus, during the 2018 national election campaign, posters went up, warning people to watch out for foreign enemies, such as the financier George Soros, the liberal establishment in Brussels, as well as the allegedly unpatriotic machinations of his domestic opposition. In rural backwaters, he and his party warned of Western-backed “destructive influences” and “anti-Christian infiltration.”
No wonder that Hungary’s authoritarian turn has reverberated far beyond the borders of the country. As Viktor Orban has sought to eliminate foreign and domestic challengers, his ruthless efforts have sparked mistrust in Brussels and Washington, D.C. As Viktor Orban’s personal despotism faces another electoral test in the spring of 2022, his ambivalence about the durability of his over a decade long reign shows the fundamental uncertainties and even failures of his soccer symbolized political project. Accordingly, less than a year before the next elections, Hungary is more an underdeveloped country than a developing one with an insignificant geostrategic value for the United States of America as well as NATO. Yet, this relative insignificance does not mean that Viktor Orban’s Hungary cannot pose a serious threat to the unity of NATO and the European Union by the way of emerging Chinese and Russian penetrations.
The United States of America in particular has the opportunity to take an active and effective stand against what Viktor Orban has been doing and would attempt to do in the future. The Biden administration could convey to the Hungarian government its objections to the hardening of authoritarianism, its shameless corruption and its demonization of the opposition. Moreover, the Biden administration could communicate its displeasure over the Hungarian situation internationally. In this context, the White House and the State Department could utilize the written and electronic media to expose Viktor Orban’s destructive, irrational and immoral regime in its entirety. Finally, President Biden should warn Viktor Orban in no uncertain terms that the continuation of his anti-NATO as well as anti-European Union policies would further perpetuate his status as an outcast within both organizations.
Time is of the essence. The White House must take the lead to state unequivocally that the member states of NATO and the European Union will not stand for Viktor Orban’s anti-Western political vandalism. Viktor Orban’s vaingloriousness aside, Washington, D.C. and Brussels cannot afford the kind of disruption to their core interests and fragile unity that he and his regime represent. The threat of Chinese and Russian penetration of NATO and the European Union, coupled with a burgeoning regional instability by Viktor Orban’s destructive chauvinism, makes the Hungarian situation absolutely untenable for the West. For this reason, the situation in Hungary must be met now with an urgent coordinated response from the community of free nations. In closing, Viktor Orban must be shown the soccer’s red card by the leaders of NATO and the European Union that stands for the sending-off from the field of players who exhibit violent and illegal conduct or purposeful obstruction of a goal scoring opportunity for the opposing team. By doing so, the Free World could demonstrate its resolve to assist every member state that lost its way to full democracy to find its path back to political, economic and moral well-being.
This week a record number of world leaders delivered speeches to the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). As expected, the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic featured heavily with, unsurprisingly, many world leaders touting their response. Chinese President Xi Jinping focused on how we can bring the international economy back to financial health, while Russian President Vladimir Putin offered UN employees free coronavirus vaccines.
This UNGA meeting is more significant than most, not because it’s virtual, or because it’s the first appearance by both the Russian and Chinese Presidents since 2015. On its 75th anniversary world leaders are “meeting” to opine at a time when we have all been forced to reckon with the current state of the world in very personal ways.
It is a fact that the coronavirus pandemic has given fervent voice to those that for decades have feared the dangers of an uncontained China. Military and technological advancements as well as economic power have provided the Communist country with the ability to remake the global political landscape. These voices find a newly receptive audience, in the halls of government and in our homes, with our usual freedoms constrained by a virus born in China.
In the U.S., policies that take aim at China’s malign global agenda rather than create pathways for greater Chinese investment have become more palatable, and that trend is unlikely to slow for the foreseeable future. But what about in a post-corona economy? What about those nations already under economic pressure, historically vulnerable to outside interference, and struggling to orientate themselves in regions of competing global economic powers the likes of Russia and China? What about staunch U.S. allies like Georgia?
The former Soviet bloc nation is at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, strategically important to the West, not just as a bulwark to Russian regional influence but as a safe alternate route for energy and digital pipelines connecting the Caucasus to Europe as well. It is strategic allies like this that will fall victim to authoritarian influence if we do not vehemently promote and support democratic reforms that deliver economic independence.
U.S. support for Georgia’s membership of NATO and accession to the European Union remains strong and often touted. There is renewed support for a Free Trade Agreement between Georgia and the U.S. within Congress and among those that have assisted and tracked Georgia’s liberalization. However, Russian interference continues to run amok of Georgian democracy and is heavily influencing decisions of strategic importance to the West while harming Georgia’s economic health.
A recent example includes moves by the Georgian government to undermine a U.S. and Europe-backed investment consortium contracted to construct a $2.5 billion deep water seaport at Anaklia on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. The port would have provided critical supply routes binding Central Asian States to the South Caucuses, and countered Russian efforts to control regional supply chains. However, the investment agreement was abruptly revoked by the national government, undoubtedly to the pleasure of Moscow and Beijing.
This week, the Georgian National Communications Commission is set to use new powers rushed through by the Georgian government to expropriate Caucasus Online. This would undermine a business deal between the internet company and NEQSOL Holding, an Azeri firm with company operations in the U.S., the UK, Azerbaijan and more. After originally giving the deal its blessing, the Georgian government has targeted the firm with historic fines, threatened to suspend Caucasus Online’s license, and even amended its communications law – in an untransparent manner – in order to empower the Georgian telecoms regulator to expropriate the company.
Since last November, members of Congress have several times raised concerns with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia about Georgia’s increasingly uncertain business climate and political targeting of specific companies. Congressman Adam Kinzinger wrote in January “Unfortunately, economic indicators show a sharp decline in foreign direct investment in Georgia as American and European companies have suffered harassment, causing many to reconsider their business ventures.”
While it reeks of Russian interference, the motivation behind the Georgian government’s targeting of Caucasus Online is baffling. Azerbaijan is Georgia’s largest investor and the deal to purchase Caucasus Online relates to a much larger strategic project to build fiber optic cables from Azerbaijan into Europe under the Black Sea, providing improved internet access to over 1.8 billion people. This new digital speedway aims to improve regional economic development, facilitate e-commerce in the region, and establish Georgia as a prominent trade hub between Asia and Europe.
It’s almost as if the U.S. is failing to connect the dots — as long as Georgia continues to undermine friendly investment, it inevitably provides a vacuum that China and Russia would be more than happy to fill.
Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the political, economic, financial, cultural, and moral health of the world have been quite unsettling. Most importantly, for centuries there has existed a yawning gap politically between nations whose constitutional foundations have been based on democratic principles and authoritarian states in which the participation of the people in their governments have been either non-existent or merely fictitious. While in the former elected politicians have been accountable in regular intervals to their respective electorates, in the latter either a single dictator or a small minority have reduced the people to fearful, passive, indifferent, and easily corruptible masses. Adding insult to injury, these authoritarian dictators have pretended to use their unlimited powers to transform their states from poverty stricken entities to developing and prosperous democracies. In reality, their sole objective has been to maintain absolute power regardless of the short and long term harm and damage they have caused to the states they have ruled by ruthless brutality.
To wit, this wholesale demoralization on the state level has metastasized globally and has succeeded to corrupt every single international organization. Presently, under the pretext of the notion of absolute equality of states and the aggressive promotion of multiculturalism, this spirit of authoritarianism threatens to annihilate the international order. Furthermore, it is an axiom of every authoritarian dictatorship that a fellow power-crazed and corrupt state is a better partner than a cumbersome democracy. Anti-democratic disposition, therefore, is an absolute sine qua non of acceptance into the club consisting of these malcontent collections of authoritarian dictatorships. Naturally, under their wretched conditions, an almost unimaginable degree of cynicism, falsehood, ignorance, cruelty, and ruthlessness have flourished. Logically, ideological subversion and psychological warfare have been the necessary global extensions of these authoritarian dictatorships, which comprise the majority of states in the world, to maintain their powers domestically as well as internationally.
Today, the whole world faces real turbulent times due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decline and even the ruin of national wealth in many countries caused by the highly contagious disease, the expected world-wide recession and even depression, the initial and ongoing mistakes and errors of the various bureaucracies, and the lack of coordination in responding to the pandemic have all contributed to the feeling of uncertainty and outright fear across the globe. In this situation, everyone suffers and will suffer. Moreover, general discontent with governments, their bureaucracies, financial institutions, businesses will certainly lead to silent or open protests. Conspiracy theories are already abound resulting in a spike of ethnic and religious hatred. The circumstances are ripe for sowing ideological confusion, pernicious brainwashing, and even extremist revolutionary schemes. The Communist Party of China and a colorful assortment of communist and socialist organizations throughout the world are pushing a mostly corrupted form of Marxism, hoping to capitalize on the peoples’ fresh misery. As usual, they traffic in an all encompassing revolution that will overthrow capitalism and replace it with a perfect earthly paradise. Conversely, the exploitation of the ubiquitous fear momentarily gripping the vast majority of the world’s population is equally dangerous to domestic as well as international tranquility.
The world is in dire need of global political leadership and great statesmanship. Contrary to the prevailing misplaced admiration, China is not ready, and will not be ready in the foreseeable future, to assume even a leading regional role in Asia. Although President Xi Jinping might disagree, he is not a statesman. Rather he is a tactician in the clothes of a dictator. As a dictator for life, i.e. dictator perpetuus, he has accumulated an immense amount of power. Simultaneously, his list of enemies has also grown exponentially. On the one hand, he has continuously violated both his country’s constitution and the constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, of which he has repeatedly declared himself a faithful servant. On the other hand, even with his enormous powers, he has not been able to stop the slow erosion of his government’s powers in the periphery of the People’s Republic. In this context, the continuing disintegration of the Party’s rule is a certainty. Equally importantly, China’s economy has been in steady decline since 2010. Furthermore, China’s finances are a mess, especially within its banking sector. International overextension, mainly driven by President Xi’s personal ambitions and hubris, will only exacerbate China’s financial woes. The undeniable fact that the COVID-19 virus originated in Wuhan will only add to his mounting problems and challenges. Information disseminated by a multitude of officials and media personalities controlled tightly by the Chinese Communist Party, have been mostly lies and fictions. Of course, having been conditioned by over seventy years of ruthless dictatorship, the Chinese people have known better.
However, the least believers in the official propaganda have been those close to President Xi and his colleagues in the Politburo, their top advisers, attendants, and secretaries. Not surprisingly, the most gullible individuals have been those foreigners whose knowledge of China is close to zero. Starting with the corrupt and incompetent director general of the WHO and continuing with the multitude of foreign politicians and journalists, they have been babbling on in unison about how great the Chinese government has been in managing of the coronavirus crisis. Yet, most alarmingly for President Xi, the circumstances of the emergence of this new coronavirus have shed a very negative light on the most vaunted ancient and allegedly superior Chinese culture. The ubiquitous existence of the “wet markets” are stark reminders of the devastating backwardness and periodic hungers of the destructive Mao era. One does not have to possess prophetic qualities to predict that President Xi will fail in his quest to make China the premier superpower. Moreover, it is almost certain that he will not remain the president for life. During his reign and thereafter, China will experience major upheavals and perhaps even a bloody revolution.
Beyond the domestic repercussions, the People’s Republic of China and its Communist Party will certainly face a great and protracted backlash internationally. The list of states demanding to hold China financially responsible for the pandemic and the resulting health, economic, and financial crises is growing daily. In the likely case that China would refuse to pay off, based upon relevant court decisions, confiscations of Chinese properties across the globe must be initiated. Finally, the United States of America must lead the campaign to clean house at the WHO, beginning with the immediate removal of its corrupt and incompetent Director General, the Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Next in line is Russia or as it is officially designated the Russian Federation. As in the case of President Xi, Vladimir Putin is not a statesman. Like the former, the Russian president is also a tactician. Although his declared lofty objective has been to restore Russia to its 20th century greatness, his real political ambition is to cling to power indefinitely. Strategically, Russian politicians have been unable to overcome their geophobia, namely the fact that their territorially immense state stretches from continental Europe to deep into Asia. This geopolitical reality historically has manifested itself in a psycho-ideological schizophrenia. The resulting division between the so-called Westernizers and the Slavophiles has left Russia in a political, economic, and cultural vacuum. This permanent oscillation between two cultures only gave the Russian people uninterrupted misery in the form of autocracy and dictatorship. Byzantine Christianity merely exacerbated the basic characteristics of the Russian people, namely, deceit, dishonesty, falsehood, prevarication, superstition, and fatalism. Putin’s Russia combines all these forces and characteristics into an old fashioned centralized autocracy, in which stagnation and arrested development will keep both the state and the people in shackles. Fundamentally, Russia will never regain its 20th century international status. Beyond its militarism, it will remain both economically and financially a second or even a third rate power.
In its current condition, the European Union is a barely functioning chaotic mess. Unless its member states understand that the key to their survival as a powerful organization is a more perfect union based on undivided solidarity, the European Union’s political, economic, financial, monetary, and cultural disintegration can be predicted with high certainty. Politically, the most important problem is the lack of leadership within and among the various institutions. The European Council presently headed by Donald Tusk has been incapable of providing strategic guidance and of setting policy objectives. The European Commission has been a bureaucratic bottleneck. Its efficiency in implementing EU decisions and common policies has been abysmal. The Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers, has always resembled more a marauding society than an organ of legislation and execution. The European Parliament has traditionally been the weakest part of the European Union. Its bloated membership and its many caucus groups have relegated the European Parliament to a veritable debating society with questionable legislative benefits.
The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union might signal the beginning of a mass exodus from the organization. The list of unhappy member states is long. Perhaps with the exception of the founding members and the Scandinavian countries, all the other member states have registered their specific complaints and reservations against the political, financial, and economic policies of Brussels. In short, the vision of a united Europe after two devastating wars was and is still very appealing. Yet, in its current condition, the European Union is unbalanced and highly susceptible to real and imaginary dangers.
One of these real dangers is financial. The other closely related danger is the state of the economy. The EURO and the economy have suffered from the fact that both have been designed as inflexible models, incapable of adjusting to changing circumstances. Unlike the United States of America, China, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Singapore, and a score of other states, there is not a single new company within the European Union that is based on the emerging technologies of the fourth Industrial Revolution, such as Artificial Intelligence.
Compounding the economic stagnation, the single currency has not contributed to the promotion and a more efficient functioning of the single market. As a result, the eurozone economies have shown anemic growth in the last three decades. Even the quantitative easing (QE) of the European Central Bank (ECB) of the last ten years has run its course and has worn off before the pandemic. The obvious solution would be to correct the inflexible structure within the monetary union.
As far as its defense and foreign policies are concerned, the European Union resembles another chaotic mess. The so-called Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) has remained an unfulfilled dream. Disappointments with the competency and efficiency of various organizations of the European Union have caused Greece, Italy, and Spain to act upon their perceived national interests, often to the detriment of the common foreign policy objectives of the entire union. Moreover, the newly admitted members of the now defunct Warsaw Pact have openly revolted against many foreign policy directives of the European Union. In the extreme case of Hungary, its Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pursued a clearly revanchist foreign policy by awarding Hungarian citizenship and voting rights to ethnic Hungarians residing in the neighboring countries.
Emerging anti-Americanism in the guist of anti-Trumpism has only aggravated the already existing tensions between the United States of America and the European Union. Yet, these two powers are also allies in NATO. They both need each other politically, economically, and militarily. The overall effects of the pandemic call for a comprehensive conference with the objective of readjusting the relationship to the new realities of world politics and thus strengthening the alliance between the United States of America and the European Union.
The greater Middle East coupled with South-East Asia are real powder kegs. Enormous domestic problems and challenges have weighed heavily on the politics and the histories of these regions. Centuries old ethnic differences and pigheaded grievances return to inform policies in predictable intervals. Historically, every minority in these two regions has been a volcano ready to erupt at any moment. Religious hostilities disguised as political controversies have been tearing apart families, clans, tribes, societies, and nations to the detriment of their political and economic progress. Added to this mix of enduring miseries are the personal ambitions and hubrises of political leaders that as a rule do not tolerate any competition. Turkey’s Erdogan is feuding with the Islamic Republic of Iran on politics and religion. He also fights the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the leadership of the Sunni world. Meanwhile, the Arabs do not want to return to the past 1918 Ottoman domination, in which the former were treated as less than second class citizens of an Empire. And then there is the Islamic Republic of Iran. A country that was Islamicized by the sword of the Arabs but succeeded to maintain its Persian character and language. Having had adapted a minority version of Islam in the mid-17th century to fight the Sunni Ottoman Empire, the Shi’a religious establishment have fought hard since 1979, to regain Iran’s historic glory and influence.
Meanwhile, the leading Arab states are facing mounting domestic pressures and international challenges. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is struggling to modernize, while its oil revenues are on the decline. Egypt is on the verge of political and economic bankruptcy and total financial ruin. Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan have been destroyed by the ongoing civil wars. Algeria and Sudan are oscillating between military rule and attempts at civilian transition.
Foreign interference has only exacerbated these situations. None of the intervening powers has contributed to the solution of any major problem in these two regions. On the contrary, they only added new complications to the already existing predicaments. To expect any meaningful changes in the near or longer term is futile. Thus, the greater Middle East and South-East Asia will remain the two regions ready to explode. A second so-called “Arab Spring,” more bloody and more transitional than the first in the near future is a real possibility.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, drew out most of the states of the African continent of their collective socialist slumber. However, this hiatus did not last long. Instead of putting their political houses in order, most of these states reverted back to mild or strict authoritarianism. In this process, they have succumbed to the corrupting influence of Chinese bribes to the detriment of the present and the future of their peoples. Presently, African rulers are busy propping up their autocracies, while keeping the bulk of their nations as near to the lowest degree of miserable existence as possible. Under these conditions, no person could develop his or her abilities without losing every vestige of human dignity, independence, and individuality.
The overall picture is not much better in Central and South America. Mismanagement, corruption, organized criminal syndicates, and masses with mentalities of slaves have rendered the states of the southern hemisphere teetering on the verge of political, economic, and financial abyss. As a consequence, the numbers of peoples voting with their feet and storming the northern borders are staggering. In spite of the new USMCA, the possibility of Mexico turning the corner politically, economically, and financially are fairly slim. The other large South American states, such as Brazil and Argentina are also in dire political, economic and financial conditions. Even Chile, the poster child of the past of good governance, has descended lately into a protracted political chaos.
Indubitably, the only power that could lead a worldwide recovery from the current economic and financial malaise is the United States of America. Although the outbreak of COVID-19, the coronavirus, has been unexpected in its scope and gravity, domestically the Trump Administration has mostly taken the right steps in a timely fashion to curb and mitigate the effects of this pandemic. The closing of the borders, the creation of the Coronavirus Task Force headed by the Vice President, the enhancing of public private partnerships, the stimulus packages, the actions of the Federal Reserve, the harnessing of the nation’s scientific, technological, and manufacturing potential, the rapid increase of tests, and the establishment of daily consultations with the governors, all have contributed to the saving of lives. What is needed now is an exit strategy that will hopefully help the United States of America to move forward by speedily returning to normalcy. Mainly, people must return to work and children to the schools.
Encouragingly the leaders of this nation have been setting a good example. From the daily press briefings at the White House one can surmise that the President, the Vice President, and members of the Task Force understand that the fight against the coronavirus is a learning process, and that mistakes made must not be repeated. Moreover, the stimulus packages and all other measures taken are designed to strengthen the free market by not favoring special groups but the nation at large. In other words, financial and economic assistance is not based on the strength of the players but on what the national economy needs. Finally, the way the Trump Administration has managed the coronavirus crisis has shown the rest of the world the quality of leadership and the character of the American nation.
For the United States of America the question now is: What in addition needs to be done domestically and internationally? For starters, the coronavirus pandemic is not just a political, economic, financial, and health crisis. It is equally important to recognize that the COVID-19 has also unleashed a psychological crisis. To put it more succinctly: the coronavirus pandemic has shaken the entire world and within it almost every large and small community. For these reasons, the recovery measures in the United States of America must be created with a global perspective in mind. Within this global framework solutions must be formulated by strategic thinking. This strategy, in turn, must be based on what the national and the global economies require and not on the political influence and relative economic strength of the players. The rebuilding of the shrinking middle class is imperative. Otherwise, the next crisis will destroy the American economy. Equally important is the need to strengthen the relationship between the politicians and the scientific community. Finally, citizens must vote for politicians with creative ideas and not for political hacks whose only concern is to grab power and cling to it at any cost to the present and the future detriment of the nation.
Internationally, the United States of America is still looking for its place in the world. This search takes place in a world that lacks enduring guiding principles. Presently, nothing is stable. Everything is changeable and replaceable. Consequently, chaos and anarchy are mounting. Disorders are ready to explode into bloody civil wars, regional armed conflicts are multiplying, and even the specter of a larger worldwide confrontation is not out of the question. Under these multiple threats merely managing international affairs is not enough. Successive Republican and Democrat administrations have failed to build on the international successes of the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. Political appointments have been made in the State Department as well as on the ambassadorial levels that have harmed American foreign policy and the global reputation of the United States of America. Civil servants at the State Department have also been hired based on their political leanings and personal connections than their professional abilities. Ambassadors have been rewarded exclusively for their political contributions to presidential campaigns without questioning their suitability to represent the United States of America in the designated country. This practice must be stopped. Otherwise, the United States of America will be considered either unserious or a nation of morons across the globe. Collectively, these individuals cannot inform knowledgeably the policy makers in the federal and local governments.
The multitude of international organizations, starting with the United Nations, must be paid more attention. Discipline must be enforced. Rogue states with outlandish actions must be punished immediately and severely, mostly through economic and financial actions. NATO must be reformed and its cohesion must be strengthened. Those member states that deviate from the political and joint security interests of the organization must be forced to fall in line. The relationship with the European Union must be taken more seriously. Particularly, in light of the present condition of the organization, the White House must rethink its globalist approach and begin to deal more intensively with the individual states.
The bilateral relationship with the People’s Republic of China must also be reevaluated. Instead of viewing it through the fog of five or three thousand years of idealized culture, China must be judged by its past failures and its 20th century misery. Even the successes of the post-Deng era must be objectively analyzed. In particular the role of the Chinese Communist Party that has proven its inflexibility concerning the country’s political and economic progress. The demise of the Soviet Union might provide a fair indication regarding the future prospects of the People’s Republic of China. In this context, to designate China as an enemy does not really help in formulating a coherent American policy. Clearly, Beijing cannot continue taking advantage of Washington and Brussels the old ways. Its expansionist designs must be countered, curbed, and stopped. Its corruption as a tool of foreign policy must be exposed. The inherent racism of the Chinese must be revealed. The false propaganda concerning its successes must be shown to be mostly lies. The substandard quality of Chinese manufactured products must be unmasked. The United States of America must stop relying on the cheap Chinese labor. Manufacturing must be brought back, especially for strategic goods. Otherwise, cooperation where it is mutually beneficial must be maintained and expanded.
In the greater Middle East Iran must be contained without humanistic consideration. The Mullahcracy, particularly an Islamic Republic of Iran armed with nuclear weapons, must be eliminated. The Arab world must be helped to sort out its many problems and challenges. However, getting again involved in the many internal squabbles and rivalries must be stopped. Russia and Turkey will fail abysmally in their quests to benefit from the present chaos and anarchy. The special relationship with the state of Israel must be further strengthened.The only true meaning of a superpower is a system of government that serves as a positive example to the rest of the world. Therefore, the objective domestically must be to strengthen the constitutional principles of the Republic. Within this democratic framework, there is no rational reason to experiment or modify the political and spiritual realms of the nation. Conversely, states across the globe have made repeated attempts at experimenting and modifying their political and spiritual realms. As Italian Fascism, German National Socialism, and Soviet Communism were rejected and defeated in the 20th century, the fashionable cannons of the early 21st century, such as the idiotic doctrine of political correctness, the self-serving call for social justice, and the rallying cry for ersatz human rights, will also end up in the proverbial dustbin of history. In a peaceful and stable world no social policies that contradict the historic traditions of the majority of nations can be sustained for a long time. Due to these factors, the United States of America will continue to remain the shining light of the world throughout the 21st century and beyond, unless the American people will decide otherwise.
The United States should be prepared to act if Putin tries to repeat in Belarus what he did in Ukraine.
America’s great power competitors, China and Russia, are pushing back against the free world. China’s arc stretches from Hong Kong and the South China Sea through the Himalaya border with India and along the Belt and Road intrusions far into Europe. Its debt-trap strategy on the African continent is binding ever more governments to it. Meanwhile, Russia continues its expansionism from Syria, through Crimea and the Donbass all the way to Libya. Across these vast regions, they trample on democracy and the rule of the law, with the ultimate intention of pushing back against American influence. Belarus is becoming the latest theater of competition. Washington should make it unambiguously clear that Russian meddling against the democratic will of the Belorussian people will not stand.
President Donald Trump has succeeded in keeping out of new wars. His firm declaration of his intent to safeguard American national interests has held adversaries at bay, and he has maintained a strong enough defense posture so as not to have to respond to provocations, such as from Iran. Yet an aggressive move by Russia in Belarus on the scale of what took place in Ukraine would be another matter altogether. It is urgent for the United States to underscore how serious the consequences will be if Moscow takes an adventurist wrong step. Vladimir Putin should not think that he can occupy Minsk the way Brezhnev occupied Prague—but the United States should be prepared to act if he tries. This requires mobilization on multiple levels.
First, it is urgent to launch intensive diplomatic consultation with all the NATO members. The transatlantic alliance is not in the best of shape at the moment, to say the least. Some European allies bear a lot of the blame. The world just witnessed the vote of the Security Council where England, France and Germany chose to abstain from extending the arms embargo on Iran, as if more arms in the hands of the Mullahs will bring peace to the Middle East. The E3 are clearly upset at the Trump administration on a range of issues. Plus, European leaders tend to underestimate security threats. In contrast though, the prospect of Russian troops marching through Belarus to the border of the EU may prompt them to think again about the need for a robust defense cooperation. A repeat of the Yugoslav wars may be looming in the European northeast, including another wave of refugees, and Europeans will have to rediscover how much they need the transatlantic alliance. It is time for Washington’s diplomatic corps to be reminding them of the dangers in their neighborhood.
Second, diplomacy has to lay the groundwork for a suspension of the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act. That post-Cold War document was premised on a non-adversarial relationship with Russia, and the expectation that Russia would contribute to European stability, democracy and peace. Moscow has broken that agreement time and again, in Ukraine, through assassinations in the United Kingdom and in Germany, and through the suppression of democratic forces domestically. The hour has long passed when NATO and the U.S. in particular should be reticent about stationing troops in the Central European countries that became free after 1989. NATO’s European members should hear America make that case and join in supporting defense build ups along the new eastern front that stretches from Estonia to Bulgaria. That troop repositioning will take considerable diplomatic and logistical efforts. The time to start is now. The decision to move troops from Germany to Poland is an auspicious first start.
Third, precisely those eastern flank countries need clear reassurance of American support. Fortunately, the Trump administration has succeeded in building firmer ties in this “new Europe,” but more could be done. A ministerial level gathering in Washington in the fall, including leaders from the Baltics, the Visegrad four, Rumania and Bulgaria would be an opportunity to signal Washington’s firm commitment to friends in those countries and to counteract the Kremlin disinformation campaign that is persistently active and outstrips the State Department’s own meager communication strategies. Yet of equal importance, a Washington gathering of the partners in Eastern Europe would signal to the world that the front line of freedom will not be surrendered to Putin’s addiction to military adventures abroad.
Fourth, it is time as well to pressure “old Europe,” especially the former front-line state, Germany, to live up to its commitments. At stake is not only the evergreen problem of burden-sharing, German underspending on defense. Even more glaring is Berlin’s persistence in collaboration with Russia on projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite objections of its European neighbors, despite Crimea, and despite killings carried out by Russian agents in Berlin, nearly in the shadow of the Chancellery. Germany should use its considerable influence in Moscow to forestall any meddling. To do so, it could make completion and operation of the pipeline contingent on Russia staying out of Belarus. Putin already has too much foreign fighting on his hands.
Belarus is part of the European theater, but it is also a piece of the encompassing global competition. Weakness in Northeast Europe will tempt adversaries in East Asia. One has to plan for worst case scenarios: a conventional Russian advance in Belarus could be followed by a Chinese move on Hong Kong or even Taiwan. Preventing such catastrophic developments requires clear expressions of commitment, fortifying our alliance and building a defense posture appropriate to today’s circumstances, not to the last war.
By Sumantra Maita • The Federalist
Bob Gates, perhaps the most farsighted post-Cold War defense secretary, presciently predicted in 2011 “that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress—and in the American body politic writ large—to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
Gates, who once rightly understood that the Saudis would fight Iranians to the last American, also essentially hinted the same with regards to Germany and Russia, “nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”
Put simply, he was saying the Germans would talk about an international liberal order for as long as Americans would pay to defend it. The day they are caught not tangibly supporting this order, they would throw a tantrum and blame Washington. “Future U.S. political leaders– those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me—may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” he said.
by Bill Gertz • Washington Free Beacon
Four Russian military aircraft conducted low passes against a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea last week, the first such military provocation since the new Trump administration took office.
The incident took place Feb. 10 and involved the USS Porter, a guided missile destroyer, fending off low flights by what the commander of the ship regarded as potentially dangerous flybys.
“There were several incidents involving multiple Russian aircraft,” said Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez, spokesman for the European Command. “They were assessed by the commanding officer as unsafe and unprofessional.”
The first buzzing involved two Russian Su-24 jet fighters followed by a single Su-24 and, in a third incident, an IL-38 transport aircraft. Continue reading
by Peter Huessy
Conventional wisdom in our nation’s Capital mistakenly holds that nuclear weapons are not useful in deterring our adversaries, not relevant to meeting new terrorist threats, and not valuable tools of overall American and allied statecraft.
The threats from Ukraine, Ebola and the ISIS are mistakenly used to make the case that nuclear weapons cannot deter most threats to the United States. We are assured the only role our nuclear weapons should play is to stop another country from attacking the United States with nuclear weapons.
From this mistaken idea flows the further conclusion the US needs only a very small deterrent of nuclear warheads for deterrence, some seventy to eighty percent less than what we have deployed today.* Continue reading
NATO faces a challenge to modernize and sustain its nuclear posture and missile defense deployments in Europe at a time of declining defense budgets on the one hand and expanded threats on the other. The threats from Russia, the Middle East, and North Africa are serious and growing from both ballistic missile arsenals and nuclear programs.
At the same time, there are political pressures within NATO pushing for the adoption of a “zero nuclear” posture as well as efforts to delay significantly U.S. and allied missile defense and nuclear modernization deployments. This comes as threatening countries adopt military and political doctrines that emphasize the use of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as instruments of state power. Continue reading
Given the current political climate in the United States and Europe, if a military intervention in Syria were to materialize it would probably be a limited “no-fly plus” aerial bombing campaign similar to NATO’s Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. The overall record for such suppressive bombing campaigns has been positive, with examples that include the Balkans, pre-invasion Afghanistan, and Iraqi Kurdistan. A determinant factor in the success or failure of these campaigns has been the existence of an approximate parity between the military power of the targeted regime and the insurgent forces engaging it. “Boots on the ground” need not always be of the same nationality as the aircraft conducting strikes, but absent a capable ground opposition prospects for eroding a hostile regime and forcing its capitulation are slim. The Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) survival against Assad’s military offensives thus far seems to indicate its capability to rout regime forces if aided by international airstrikes, suggesting that the impact of hypothetical aerial intervention would be significant. Continue reading