George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘Russia

THE RUSSIANS, THE DEMOCRATS AND THE MEDIA

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There was a time when Russia was the enemy, back when the Russian people suffered under the communist yoke. Then opposition to the Soviet Union was the right position, while many on the Left were outright communist sympathizers or treasonous pawns of that evil empire. The Russian people were never the enemy.  The enemy was the odious regime that murdered millions of its own people. But the Soviet Union is long gone and communism belongs in the dustbin of history.

Russia has come a long way, and today under Putin is anti-Bolshevik.  Is it democratic in the way of the west? No, but it is an infinite improvement over the communist regime. When the Russians were behind the expansion of communism there was reason to consider them the enemy. But the Left instead was reliably anti-anti-communist, ever promoting “peaceful coexistence” and understanding where none could be had. But today the new theme of the Left, and the Democratic party in the US, is anti-Russian. Perhaps they mourn the old Soviet regime and resent its replacement, no longer of the “left,” but one that has restored Russian tradition, culture, and religion. This is not meant as an apology for the Russian regime, which in many respects is mismanaging the country to the detriment of its long-term interests, and with its low tolerance of opposition, but these are self-inflicted wounds.

Today the Democratic party in the United States has gone totally off the rails in its delusions about Russian involvement in our elections and government. At this point it is pure hysteria, not even so much because of anything the Russians might have done but that it might be used to undermine the Trump administration. This is unadulterated hatred seeking a target aided by a compliant and partisan media.

If you were skeptical of the criticism of the media in the past, the current kerfuffle over Attorney General Sessions supposed contacts with the Russians proves the point. From Democratic operatives the word was passed to the media that Sessions met with the Russians twice and didn’t mention it in his Senate testimony. But what were these meetings? The supposed contact with the Russian ambassador consisted of questioning him with other senators in a hearing, and an otherwise casual and trivial passing conversation at a reception. To any objective observer this is nonsense, and a truly honest media would have passed it over or concluded that there was nothing there. Instead we have a bogus “scandal” without substance that most people can parse out on their own. The only real offense of Sessions is being a southern white man; talk about prejudice and hatred!

Now they are finding, or rather looking for Russians everywhere under the bed without a shred of evidence. A responsible media would stick to the facts, but they have degenerated into a partisan opposition, relying on embittered holdovers from the Obama administration.

This Russomania is going nowhere. It is the last gasp of scoundrels who have nothing left in their arsenal.Their only objective is to undermine the Trump administration. It isn’t just the Democrats, but the Bush-league Republicans who failed miserably when in power. These old cold warriors have now made common cause with the new cold warriors of the Left. In the complete absence of factual evidence and endless innuendo, the net effect of this behavior is to drive more and more people into the Trump camp.

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Written by georgesarant

March 3, 2017 at 2:44 PM

THE RUSSIAN HACK

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According to US intelligence services there is little doubt that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s computers. But as President Obama made clear today that is old news, something he confronted Putin about months ago. He further stated that after that it stopped. I share his puzzlement as to why it is an issue in the media now.

Hillary Clinton now says that this was a factor in costing her the election, though it is unclear how that could have come to pass since there is no evidence anyone tampered with the electoral process itself. Mrs. Clinton seems to be confusing the DNC hack with her own problems with her personal email server, which is a completely different issue. Her negligence in that case, and her violation of various rules is what damaged her, if anything did. The DNC hack produced no information of any consequence, and the Wikileaks buildup was a total bust. Not a single thing detrimental to Hillary Clinton was revealed in the Russia-to-Wikileaks dump so it could not possibly have affected the election. The more salient reason why Hillary lost was the fact that she spent little or no time in places like Wisconsin and Michigan.

Nevertheless this kind of security break ought to concern everyone, especially in Europe where there are upcoming elections. The US cannot tolerate this kind of interference, or potential interference in our electoral process and measures to correct this ought to be taken. However, in terms of damage or influence, there was none apart from some embarrassment on the part of people whose emails were hacked. Nothing of any real interest to anyone was revealed, so for the parties involved it was a waste of time. Going forward, we need to be prepared to resist this sort of thing, and if our servers are breached at this point it is our own fault.

Written by georgesarant

December 16, 2016 at 11:54 PM

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STAY OUT OF THE LINE OF FIRE

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The USA has not been blessed with leaders with a clear-eyed, long-term geopolitical view of the interests of the country for decades, and that record, along with the consistent ineptitude of the present administration, makes inaction preferable to action on a number of fronts. Iraq is descending into a chaotic civil war, due to the precipitous disengagement of the Obama administration and a total lack of strategic vision. There is no question that the blunders of the Bush administration are responsible for instigating these problems, but in that case at least half the blame belongs to Saddam Hussein himself for so successfully faking WMD capabilities in order to be perceived as a more formidable force in the region. That posture backfired, as did his removal. Sadaam was an awful dictator, but he counterbalanced the equally odious Iranian regime, which became the principal beneficiary of his demise. Broader strategic thinking would have made that outcome obvious. 

More importantly, Sadaam was a secular leader who checked religious extremism as long as he was in power. The same dynamic is at work in Syria now, where the US currently has zero credibility or respect, having drawn a  “line in the sand,” which it then ignored.  A wiser, long-term geopolitical understanding would have informed us of the saliency of the religious extremism in the two branches of Islam, and guided our strategic thinking accordingly. This is a long term, historic conflict that could still last centuries. Do we want to be part of that? At this stage, given the bumbling proclivities of our leaders, I think the best course for the US is to use this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire. By that I mean ceasing to be enemy number one to extremists on both sides of the Islamic rift.  We have managed to fumble our way into that position, and it is now time to extricate ourselves. 

There are many countries in the world with an “Islamic problem,” meaning either a restive minority population or conflict with an aggressive neighbor. The US is not one of them, and a cursory examination of global borders makes that obvious. There is no inherent reason for the US to be at odds with any of these players, but for inserting ourselves into their affairs. Contrary to the beliefs of some on the left, it’s not about oil. We are more self-sufficient in this hemisphere than most other countries, and would be even more so but for the anti-energy policies of this administration, which sooner or later will be undone. The people who depend on mideast oil are the Japanese, the Europeans, and increasingly, the Chinese. Consequently what happens in the area is of far more consequence for them than it is for us. 

As for cultural conflict, Europe has a large, unassimilated Muslim population. Russia, and even China have restive Muslim minorities. Thus, the problems are far more acute for them, so why should the US wind up being the Great Satan? Bin Laden (who primarily targeted the US for stationing forces in Saudi Arabia, which are now gone) is dead and most of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack are accounted for. The Muslims are not our problem, and the more we disengage from conflict with them the less we would be targeted. Their main goal is obtaining power within the Islamic world. They are basically a headache for the existing regimes, who until now have managed to deflect such hostility onto the west. We are not sufficiently ruthless for this kind of conflict.

This does not mean cutting and running, but making a realistic policy that in essence says you don’t bother us and we won’t bother you, for if you do you will be annihilated with overwhelming force.  We would basically make an offer they couldn’t refuse. Let the CIA do its job for a change and come up with accurate information on these movements. Given the nature of the present administration I do not see a better path. 

We have paid dearly for all of this, not just in lives and treasure, but in terms of our own liberties. We now have a massive security state that is adept primarily at inconveniencing us at airports. Yet the end result is a situation no better than it was before, and given the instability in the area, arguably worse. We need to focus on rebuilding strength at home, where our way of life has deteriorated significantly. I am not suggesting isolationism here, but realism, as per Theodore Roosevelt’s axiom, speak softly but carry a big stick. 

 

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE PART 2

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There are those who are criticizing President Obama for not doing more about Russia and the Ukraine. I would argue that he and Kerry ought to be doing less because what they are doing is so inept it is almost comical. We have a weak leader (as perceived by a majority of Americans) playing a weak hand. Given that, less is better than more, lest the US be perceived as even weaker. Red lines that are indefensible and threats of “consequences” that impress no one are pointless. Given the nature of this administration, the less action there is the less embarrassment there will be.

Putin sees a power vacuum, with weak, irresolute western leaders that he has only contempt for, and he is acting on it. The main basis for the “illegality” of Russian actions is an agreement made in the 1990s to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine as it gave up its nuclear weapons. Among the signatories to this were Russia and the US. So Russia has reneged on another agreement. Who is surprised by this? For it is not only international agreements that they have discarded but also contracts with gullible western corporations dumb enough to do business there under current conditions. 

The notion of the “west” and Russia as the “east” is a false dichotomy. The Russians inherited the same Greek foundation as the west via Greek monks who created their alphabet and converted them to Christianity a thousand years ago. It is ironic that after more than seven decades of communism Russia today is far more Christian than the west. It is through this prism that Putin views western countries as degenerate and weak. But Russia also feels threatened by NATO expansion to its borders, which is one of the main reasons that Putin wants the former Soviet republics to get in line with Russia. 

The real barrier to better relations and integration with the western world is the lack of rule of law in Russia, which involves more than just arbitrary government. Normal business cannot be conducted with parties who renege on contract agreements. This will continue as long as there is not a a truly independent judiciary. Constitutional government requires more than the formal edifice of institutions with separate powers. Putin’s government is not so much in opposition to this as several steps removed. His model now is essentially that of the state as protector of traditional values, defender of the faith, etc.  with himself at the apex of the state. Nevertheless his government still has support with the majority of the population.

This is not to suggest that Russian aggrandizement should not be opposed, but realistically just what assets do we have available for this? This administration does not have the standing in the world to support its posturing. We need to take a longer term view to a post-Obama (and Putin) world. If Russia annexes Crimea based upon a popular vote it will backfire on them badly. For if Crimea can have self-determination then logically the restive regions in the Caucasus could do the same. Thus Chechnya and Dagestan could use the same pretext to break away from Russia. What the US and other western countries need to do is focus on rebuilding the economy, institutions, and strength at home before we can be taken seriously abroad. 

 

 

 

Written by georgesarant

March 16, 2014 at 7:38 PM

WHAT TO DO ABOUT RUSSIA & UKRAINE?

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Russian actions in Ukraine continue to dominate the headlines, and there is no common western policy beyond expressions of disapproval. The question now is what should be done about Putin’s actions? The short answer is, not much. First, because not much can realistically be done by outsiders, and second, given the extent to which the Obama administration has abandoned leadership in the world, things like this are bound to happen in that power vacuum. With the “reset” in relations with Russia in shambles who can have confidence in the ability of this administration to handle this appropriately?

There has been some tough talk from Hillary Clinton, which makes some sense on the surface. She compares the Ukrainian situation to that of Nazi Germany, which grabbed the Czech sudetanland followed other territories on the pretext of protecting Germans in those areas. When there was no effective response Hitler’s appetite increased until the invasion of Poland finally brought on World War II.  However, Putin is not Hitler, and the global context is quite different. Britain and France were committed to alliances with Poland. No one apart from Russia is allied with the territories of the former Soviet Union, which we can assume Putin dreams of recreating. But what can he realistically do in that regard?

If Russia were to regain all those territories the Russians themselves would become a minority in the federation. They would have a substantial, growing and increasingly restive population on their hands. They have yet been unable to completely subdue the existing Muslim population in Chechnya and other Russian territories in the Caucasus. The Russian population is roughly 142 million and declining, with a non-Russian minority at nearly 20% and growing. Russia cannot possibly maintain a stable society with more ethnic minorities in its fold. Putin is no fool and he must know this. But he also knows that he can annex some territories with little to lose. 

Crimea, which is now basically occupied, has a Russian majority and the regional government is seeking a referendum on joining Russia. That should be amended to say rejoining Russia, insofar as Crimea was in fact Russian territory until Kruschev ceded it to the then Ukrainian SSR, in what was basically an internal shuffle, never imagining an independent Ukraine. From the Russian point of view they are simply reoccupying historically Russian territory. Given the history and the demographics there is not much of a case for a strong response to this by anyone. Putin took advantage of the political turmoil in Ukraine. A similar case could be made for Russian majority areas in eastern Ukraine. As long as there are substantial majority-minority population differences there is certain to be instability, and a degree of sorting out would mitigate that and eliminate any pretext for further aggrandizement. A more Ukrainian Ukraine could then pursue its goal of joining the west via the European Union. 

What disturbs much of the world is the use of force in this situation, and for that there should be consequences. The problem is that there is really no one in a position to do much of anything. The next step would be to give a strong message along the lines of “this far but no further.” The problem is that the US administration has drawn red lines before that fell away without consequences, and has no credibility left. The outrage of some hawks on the right is misplaced. This is not the Soviet Union. Russia is not an enemy and there is nothing to be gained by treating it like one. The notion of the west versus Russia is a false dichotomy. . Russia has been a part of the “west” in some sense, at least since Peter the Great. The real barrier to better relations and integration with the western world is the lack of rule of law in Russia. To be continued. 

 

Written by georgesarant

March 6, 2014 at 6:59 PM

FIFTY YEARS IN A FLASH

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The Beatles arrived in the US fifty years ago, as hard as that is to believe for those who were around at the time. The years seem to have flashed by progressively faster, as they inevitably do as we age. Somehow what seems like a long period of time just doesn’t feel like it. Curiously this is not because things have changed so much, but rather because they have changed so little. There is a surprising degree of continuity between now and then. For example, people still listen to the music of the Beatles, whereas in 1964 few people were still listening to the popular music of 1914. Where there is a virtually seamless connection between today and 1964 for most people in the West, the fifty years prior to that time are like a huge chasm of discontinuity. 

 

Consider the year 1914. Then, for the broad public everything was new, from electricity to movies, automobiles, airplanes, appliances, telephones, recordings, etc. Although most of these things originated in the late 19th century, they did not reach most people until costs tumbled due to mass production early in the 20th century. In contrast, apart from the Internet, medical devices, and electronics generally, there is not much in the way of things with comparable fundamental impact on daily life over the past fifty years. Thus, a person from 1964 could fit in comfortably in 2014  (apart from wondering where all the space travel and robots are), whereas a person from 1914 encountering the world of 1964 would be flabbergasted.  

 In geopolitical terms 1914 was the apex of the civilization of the19th century and the old order of Europe, which disastrously exploded into war in August of that year. Thus began, one hundred years ago, the biggest disaster in modern western history, subsequently referred to as “the Great War,” or World War I as we now call it today. There was worse to come, but most of what followed was a consequence of that war. Had it not happened the map of the world would be very different today, and more dynamic powers would still exist in Europe. Today it is hard to imagine countries sending off millions of their young men to war, largely as cannon fodder, ultimately all for nothing. It is equally hard to imagine European countries gripped by patriotic fervor and clamoring for war as some did at the time. The United States only entered the war three years after it began, so military deaths of 116,516 were far less than the 416,800 in World War II. But for European countries in the west the losses were almost incomprehensible. Thus the Great War still resonates in Britain, which lost 908,371 versus 303,800 in World War II or France, which lost 1,357,800 soldiers in WWI versus 200,000 in World War II. On the other side Germany lost 1,773,700, Austria-Hungary 1,200,00 and all of these are only battlefield death. Total casualties were several times more. In the east Russia lost 1,700,000 before leaving the war after the 1917 revolution.

The German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empire, (which controlled much of the middle east at the time), all collapsed as a result of the war, followed by years of turmoil that led directly to WWII and the further consequences of that war. An imperial civilization vanished, and in some ways Europe has yet to fully recover from what began in August 1914.

Clearly most of the seminal events occurred in the first half of the 20th century. The years between 1914 and 1964 constituted a period of great discontinuity, in contrast to the curious continuity between 1964 and 2014. Although we have been led to believe that we live in a time of rapid change, the truth is things haven’t changed all that much, and that is why the years seem, even more so, to have gone by in a flash. As the saying goes, “the more things change the more they stay the same.”

 

 

Written by georgesarant

February 23, 2014 at 7:29 PM

THE WEST & THE MIDDLE EAST 1: SYRIA

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It’s a crazy world we live in when one has to decide whether John Kerry or Vladimir Putin is lying about who is using chemical weapons in Syria.  Kerry testified there is ample evidence it was initiated by the Assad regime, while Putin says he has a detailed 100 page report indicating that the rebels did it. Given the murkiness of this situation congress ought to think twice before rushing into another Middle East conflict, the consequences of which cannot be known. There has been no indication of any contingencies which might result from such action. Are we really prepared for this? 

The President’s credibility is on the line, or what’s left of it, but contrary to prevailing assumptions that does not mean America’s credibility is also hanging by a thread. For what we have here is a regime of the Left such as we have never seen before, mismanaging just about every aspect of government. The administration only now has had to reach out to Republicans to get something done, who would be ill-advised to be suckered in, despite some naturally hawkish tendencies.  Do they really have confidence in the leadership of this administration at this point? Then there is John Kerry, the point man on this mission, who once falsely testified before congress that American forces were regularly committing atrocities in Viet Nam and who met with Assad several times, praising him, against the wishes of the Bush administration.  Can we trust this man now? Republicans are out of their minds if they fall in line for what is likely to be a fiasco, given this kind of leadership. Can they really still have any confidence in them at this point? 

The only sensible thing to do is to either vote against this action, and/or get out of the way and let the administration take the fall for botching this entire situation. Given its tenuous credibility, drawing red lines and then saying they didn’t, and then stating that  “the world” did; never mind that virtually no one else in the world wants any part of this mission. Action was not taken two years ago when it would have mattered. It is too little too late, and yes, action at this point would be worse than doing nothing. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to lose by doing it now. If there were another chemical attack and it was clear who did it, then action might be justified. But the UN has yet to issue a report either way, which at least give some substantive support to whoever is right. 

A wise government would be looking to get us out of the line of fire, but they instead want to jump into it. Both Secretary Kerry and President Obama strongly opposed the Iraq war, but now are pursuing a comparable policy on far more tenuous grounds. There is no coalition, no congressional support as yet, and no conclusive proof. To claim that Syria is a threat to our national security is preposterous. Just what national security do we gain when this administration has leaked like a sieve and a good portion of our national secrets have been spilled all over, and governments the world over are alienated and angry. Due to their breathtaking ineptitude they have managed to make Russia a major player again, and make Putin look like a statesman. What we really need is a congressional no confidence vote, so at least the rest of the world know it is not us taking action but an administration acting against the wishes of the people, and then somehow muddle through three more years of this lame duck presidency. 

 

 

Written by georgesarant

September 6, 2013 at 5:11 PM