Does Putin Back Hillary?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Democrat standard-bearer Hillary Clinton in happier times. [Credit: thepoliticalcarnival.net]

Perhaps because I’m in Italy, I’ve not been infected by the contagion that has spread more rapidly than the Zika virus: the febrile notion that Russian president Vladimir Putin is subverting our electoral process in an effort to elect Donald J. Trump as president.

Never has such conspiratorial speculation mutated so quickly into received wisdom. Continue reading

Trump and Friends

Donald Trump's recent foreign policy speech reflects our love/hate relationship with our allies. Credit: businessinsider.com

Donald Trump’s recent foreign policy speech reflects our love/hate relationship with our allies. Credit: businessinsider.com

“Who the f*** does he think he is?Who’s the f***ing superpower here?”  — President Bill Clinton after meeting with Israeli PM Netanyahu in 1996

Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumptive standard-bearer, shares former President Clinton’s frustration with America’s allies.  And like Clinton, President Obama and others who have occupied the Oval Office, Trump isn’t sure what to do about it. Continue reading

There Is No Plan To Destroy The Islamic State

Hillary Clinton presented her plan for defeating the Islamic State recently. It won't work. Nor will those advanced by her Republican opponents. [Credit: NY Daily News]

Hillary Clinton presented her plan for defeating the Islamic State recently. It won’t work. Nor will those advanced by her Republican opponents. [Credit: NY Daily News]

When pressed by a normally docile gaggle of White House reporters recently over whether he would consider changing his failed Syria strategy, President Obama reverted to form: he accused Republicans of religious bigotry and cruelty to children.

His political opponents, he said, believe that “only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted” as refugees and that we “shouldn’t admit 3-year old-orphans.”

The President’s efforts to divert attention from his foreign policy debacles (which helped make orphans and refugees of three-year-olds) have so far fallen flat.  The vast majority of Americans has lost confidence in his campaign against the Islamic State.  A Washington Post poll found that 57 percent disapprove of the way he’s dealing with the terrorist group – including 46 percent who strongly disapprove – against only 35 percent who support him.

That public sentiment, of little interest to the President, is a leading concern for those vying to succeed him.  Even Bernie Sanders claims to have a plan to destroy the Islamic State. Though they differ in certain respects, most of these plans call for dropping more bombs against more targets from planes flying the flags of more countries (with the possible exception of Russia), providing more arms to factions we don’t really know and can’t really trust, and deploying more military “advisers” (not to be confused with “boots on the ground”) to the region.

All of them suggest that Islamic State can be vanquished with relative ease and at little cost.  All of them are blowing smoke. Continue reading

GOP Debate: Bring Back The CNBC Moderators

GOP Presidential contenders struggled with substantive questions during last week's debate. [Credit: ibtimes.com

GOP Presidential contenders fumbled substantive questions during last week’s debate. [Credit: ibtimes.com]

Donald Trump wants a piece of the Keystone Pipeline.

The issue didn’t come up during last week’s GOP debate, so Trump didn’t have the chance to elaborate on his declaration that he would have approved the project only if the Canadian company forked over 25 percent of its profits.

“I want a piece of the deal,” Trump told Bret Baier of Fox News.  “When I say I want a piece, I’m now representing our country the way I would represent myself.” Continue reading

Is President Obama Right About Putin?

Vladimir Putin delights in outwitting President Obama at every turn. But is the President right when he says the Putin's Syria adventure is "not a smart strategic move?" [Credit: Daily Mail and Getty Images]

Vladimir Putin delights in outwitting President Obama at every turn. But is the President right when he says that Putin’s Syria adventure is “not a smart, strategic move?” [Credit: Daily Mail and Getty Images]

The U.S. and Russia blundered to the brink of nuclear war in 1983 according to recently declassified documents, a reminder that as frayed as relations between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have become, things could be far worse.

The NATO exercise that threatened mutually assured destruction began with a fictional scenario that today doesn’t seem all that fictional — Russia delivers arms to Syria and Iran.

Leaders of several Gulf States, threatened by Russian intervention, seek U.S. military involvement, according to the scenario.  The President responds by dispatching military advisers to the region and increasing our naval presence there.

As the NATO war game played out, rising tensions eventually provoke Russian military aggression against its neighbors.  The U.S. President, in response to a request from his military commanders, authorizes the “limited use of nuclear weapons against pre-selected fixed targets.”

Russian military leaders who observed the NATO exercise concluded that the U.S. was plotting a real nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.  American intelligence officials had no idea at the time how badly the Soviets were misreading our intentions or how close the world was drawing toward nuclear conflagration.  War was averted.  But just barely, if the newly declassified intelligence assessments are to be believed.

Today, Russia is doing far more than merely supplying arms to Syria and Iran, leaving President Obama frustrated and flummoxed, but not fumbling for the nuclear launch codes.  Instead, the President watches helplessly as Vladimir Putin asserts himself in a region where the U.S. once held sway, vaguely warning that Russian intervention is “not a smart, strategic move.”

He may be right. Continue reading

Why Europe Hasn’t Joined Our Ukraine Crusade

It typically costs $100 to fill a 12-gallon tank in Italy today.  The country imports much of its oil from Russia.  Which is why its government is reluctant to sign on to President Obama's anti-Putin campaign.  [Credit: NWA online]

It typically costs $100 to fill a 12-gallon tank in Italy today. The country imports much of its oil from Russia. Which is why its government is reluctant to sign on to President Obama’s anti-Putin campaign. [Credit: NWA online]

A gallon of unleaded gas costs nearly $9 here in Todi, a tranquil Italian town whose roots stretch back millennia to pre-Etruscan times.  Diesel is a bit cheaper at $8.50 per gallon, meaning that it costs $100 to fill a 12-gallon tank.

Which may help explain why President Obama’s crusade to impose systematic economic sanctions on Russia has so far fizzled.  Europeans are unwilling to pay the costs that disruptions in trade with Russia would impose on them.

One can hardly blame them. Continue reading

What the President Can Learn From Ukraine

Ukrainian army personnel dispatched to reclaim a city from pro-Russian forces decided instead to defect to the Russian side.  [Credit: AFP/Getty]

Ukrainian army personnel dispatched to reclaim a city from pro-Russian forces reportedly defected to the pro-Russian side. Last night’s tentative agreement will put an international organization — including Russian, American and European monitors — at the lead in returning the cities to Kiev’s control. [Credit: AFP/Getty]

Earlier this week, four armored troop carriers headed toward the eastern Ukraine city of Sloviansk, which had been occupied by pro-Russian forces.  The paratroopers from Ukraine’s 25th brigade were dispatched by the government in Kiev to spearhead its “anti-terrorist” offensive, designed to reclaim the city for the central government.  But after talking with the demonstrators who met them outside the city, the troops reportedly defected to the pro-Russian side, replaced the Ukraine flag with a Russian one, and drove their vehicle into Lenin Square.

Shortly after Russia invaded Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The people of Ukraine will not sit still for this.  They know how to fight.”

Evidently not. Continue reading

The Next Ukraine Crisis

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate referendum results. Putin won this round of the Ukraine crisis. How should the West prepare for the next one?  [Credit: China Daily]

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate referendum results. Putin won this round of the Ukraine crisis. How should the West prepare for the next one? [Credit: China Daily]

President Obama and his Administration have been proclaiming for weeks that the Russians would suffer if they didn’t withdraw from Crimea.

They haven’t withdrawn.  They’re not suffering.  Now what?

Vladimir Putin seems once again to have prevailed, annexing Crimea without military or economic reprisals of consequence.  Our government’s veiled threats of military action and explicit warnings of deep economic pain have thus far proven empty, though both the US and Europe are expected to add to the list of Russians on whom it will impose travel and financial restrictions. The crisis may soon wind down, but we can expect another in a few months when new elections are to be held and bills come due for a Kiev government on the edge of bankruptcy.  The Administration should handle this next crisis differently.

Continue reading

Ukraine Economic Woes Could Hold Key To Peace

Uniformed troops believed to be Russian stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. Is there a peaceful resolution to this crisis? [Credit: Business Insider]

Uniformed troops believed to be Russian stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. Is there a peaceful resolution to this crisis? [Credit: Business Insider]

Ukraine’s interim government, whose part the Administration has taken in the Crimea crisis, includes a prominent political leader who has in the past urged his countrymen to fight the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” and called on his government to halt the “criminal activities” of “organized Jewry.”

The author of this calumny, Oleh Tyahnybok, is a leader of Ukraine’s Svoboda (“freedom”) party, who in December 2012 was named Person of the Year by readers of the country’s leading news magazine, Korrespondent.

Such are the complexities that lurk not far beneath the surface in the ongoing crisis over Russia’s incursion into Crimea. Continue reading

Syria and the Future of US Policy

credit abc

The August 21 chemical attack in Syria has ironically left Assad more securely in power than before, while increasing Russian influence in the region. [Credit: ABC]

The Syria episode is behind us, but after the President’s serial improvisations, our policy, aims and interests remain unclear.

Continue reading