Late Night Open Thread: Ambassador Kislyak — So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye…

Not exactly unexpected — his cover’s been irrevocably blown — but one more tick on the timeline:

Ending one the most turbulent tenures of a Washington-based ambassador in recent memory, the Kremlin has decided to recall its ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak, three individuals familiar with the decision tell BuzzFeed News.

The decision to bring Kislyak back to Russia rather than appoint him to a senior position at the United Nations in New York, as several outlets previously reported, comes amid investigations by the FBI and Congress into the 66-year-old diplomat’s contacts with President Donald Trump’s top aides during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“He could use some time away,” said a US-based diplomat.

Though Kislyak’s departure has long been expected, Moscow would not confirm his departure date. The US-Russia Business Council, however, is hosting a going away party for the ambassador on July 11 at the St. Regis Hotel

Kislyak was reportedly under consideration to lead a new UN counterterrorism office based in New York. However, that position has since been offered to veteran Russian diplomat Vladimir Voronkov, a UN official announced last week…

In Kislyak’s place, the Kremlin is expected to send Russian deputy foreign minister, Anatoly Antonov, according to Russian media reports. Antonov, a tough negotiator who is on the EU’s sanctions list, will need final approval by Russia’s parliament.

Waiting with interest to see how this story develops.



The Smoking Gun: Putin’s Specific Instructions for Active Measures Against the United States During the 2016 Presidential Election

The Washington Post reports (emphasis mine):

The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

Specifically:

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

The White House debated various options to punish Russia, but facing obstacles and potential risks, it ultimately failed to exact a heavy toll on the Kremlin for its election interference.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

Miller, Nakashima, and Entous’s excellent, detailed reporting now tells us exactly what Putin’s guidance to his subordinates was. It also tells us what his strategic objective was: to elect Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. It is important to be very, very, very clear here about what this reporting tells us. It confirms that not only did Putin order active measures against the United States, specifically during the 2016 presidential election. He did so specifically to damage Secretary Clinton and elect President Trump.  As I wrote in July 2016 we are at (cyber) war. And again in March 2017 – we are at war. The only question now is what do we do about it?

ETA at 1:05 PM EDT

The US government has specific actionable intelligence, that is assessed to be of high confidence, that a hostile foreign power has attacked and continues to attack the United States for its own ends. This is a national security problem. And every part of the solution, including election system reforms, need to be understood within the discussion national security responses and solutions to the threat we face.



Late Night Russiagate Open Thread: In Like Flynn

As Miss Manners would’ve told Pompeo, sometimes the rules are there to protect you from your friends. It’s certainly possible to imagine (if you squint hard enough) that a guy from one’s personal circle, well-known for his range of interests, might choose to sit in on the briefings in all innocence. Surely a man with such a storied military career would know what could not be safely repeated outside the room, immune from minor peccadilloes of money or fame…

Senior officials across the government became convinced in January that the incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had become vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

At the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — agencies responsible for keeping American secrets safe from foreign spies — career officials agreed that Mr. Flynn represented an urgent problem.

Yet nearly every day for three weeks, the new C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation’s most sensitive intelligence — with Mr. Flynn listening. Mr. Pompeo has not said whether C.I.A. officials left him in the dark about their views of Mr. Flynn, but one administration official said Mr. Pompeo did not share any concerns about Mr. Flynn with the president.

The episode highlights a remarkable aspect of Mr. Flynn’s tumultuous, 25-day tenure in the White House: He sat atop a national security apparatus that churned ahead despite its own conclusion that he was at risk of being compromised by a hostile foreign power…

The concerns about Mr. Flynn’s vulnerabilities, born from misleading statements he made to White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, are at the heart of a legal and political storm that has engulfed the Trump administration. Many of Mr. Trump’s political problems, including the appointment of a special counsel and the controversy over the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, can ultimately be traced to Mr. Flynn’s stormy tenure.

Time and again, the Trump administration looked the other way in the face of warning signs about Mr. Flynn…

Concerns across the government about Mr. Flynn were so great after Mr. Trump took office that six days after the inauguration, on Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, warned the White House that Mr. Flynn had been “compromised.”…

White House officials have said they moved deliberately both out of respect for Mr. Flynn and because they were not sure how seriously they should take the concerns. They also said the president believed that Ms. Yates, an Obama administration holdover, had a political agenda. She was fired days later over her refusal to defend in court Mr. Trump’s ban on travel for people from several predominantly Muslim countries.

A warning from Mr. Pompeo might have persuaded the White House to take Ms. Yates’s concerns more seriously. Mr. Pompeo, a former congressman, is a Republican stalwart whom Mr. Trump has described as “brilliant and unrelenting.”…

Speaking of protection from one’s “friends”, is is fair to assume that one reason Pompeo chose not to speak up about Flynn’s presence was that he hoped to avoid a fate like that meddlesome talebearer Sally Yates?



Open Thread: “Do You Like Gladiator Movies, Donny?”


.
Since their domestic agenda is proving as popular as a weeping chancre at a hot-tub party, the Trump BRAINZZZ trust goes back to spinning let’s-kill-us-some-dirty-furriners fanfic…

Beginning with the account of Greek historian Herodotus, the clash, which took place in 480 B.C., has become a kind of foundation myth of Western civilization. The heroic Spartan stand — whose numbers were closer to 7,000 than 300 — in the face of the mongrel, polyglot Persian hordes is cast as a primordial act of sacrifice for the liberty of a people. The historical consensus, both among ancient chroniclers and current scholars, was that Thermopylae was a clear Greek defeat; the Persian invasion would be pushed back in later ground and naval battles. But its legacy still reverberates millennia later…

This is a powerful claim that many in the West intuitively accept: Thermopylae is the Alamo of antiquity, a doomed contest between the brave few and a gargantuan foe that stirred their compatriots to action. Had Xerxes, a Persian emperor, snuffed out all Greek resistance, then the scattered city-states on the western side of the Aegean Sea would have just become one more province of what was a vast, multi-ethnic empire…

“Ancient Sparta is proto-fascist,” Paul Cartledge, a celebrated British classicist and author of “Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World,” among numerous other works on ancient Greece, said in an interview with WorldViews.

Although the clash between Greeks and Persians may be remembered now as the battle that crystallized Western liberty, the ancient Spartans were no model democrats — even in their time. Their society was communal and militarist. It practiced early forms of eugenics and infanticide. It kept a huge slave population in thrall to its warrior elite. Some contemporary scholars even liken conditions in the city-state to a kind of apartheid…

“It’s a clash of political civilizations, it’s not a clash of religions,” Cartledge said, arguing the difference between the two sides was less cultural than it has been made out to be. “Xerxes didn’t conduct his campaign on the basis of a crusade.”

And, ultimately, for all the heroism of the Persian wars, the Greeks would turn against one another. In the wake of the Persian retreat, the rival powers of Sparta and Athens built regional alliances and mini-empires of their own and soon locked horns in three decades of ruinous conflict that spanned the Mediterranean.

“The Greeks fought each other as much they fought others,” Cartledge said…

But they looked so butch while they did!



Open Thread: Apparently Writing for the WSJ Does Not Qualify One for 007 Status

To be honest, it sounds like this guy was writing fanfic after being contacted by an email scammer. But with really big weapons! Per the AP article:

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals — including one involving arms sales to foreign governments — with an international businessman who was one of his key sources.

The reporter, Jay Solomon, was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company, Denx LLC, by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company.

“We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgment of Jay Solomon,” Wall Street Journal spokesman Steve Severinghaus wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. “While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards.”…

“I clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn’t understand.” Solomon told the AP on Wednesday. “I never entered into any business with Farhad Azima, nor did I ever intend to. But I understand why the emails and the conversations I had with Mr. Azima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities. I apologize to my bosses and colleagues at the Journal, who were nothing but great to me.”

Two other Denx partners — ex-CIA employees Gary Bernsten and Scott Modell — told the AP that Solomon was involved in discussing proposed deals with Azima at the same time he continued to cultivate the businessman as a source for his stories for the Journal. Bernsten and Modell said Solomon withdrew from the venture shortly after business efforts began and that the venture never added up to much. They provided no evidence as to when Solomon withdrew.

The emails and texts reviewed by the AP — tens of thousands of pages covering more than eight years — included more than 18 months of communications involving the apparent business effort. Some messages described a need for Solomon’s Social Security number to file the company’s taxes, but there was no evidence Solomon provided it.

Denx was shuttered last year, according to Florida business registration records…



Trump’s Foreign Policy “Team”: Uneasy Sits the Arse That Warms A Throne

Like any other cartel boss, Trump can’t trust his lieutenants unless he’s got them within arm’s reach — forever checking their body language, the eye contact between underling & underling, the pauses after his applause lines and the enthusiasm of their individual responses. And it’s not as though the Trump administration took any effort to keep the lower bureaucratic offices they inherited properly staffed or funded while the new crew figured out how to work the light switches…

The CIA director’s treks to the West Wing reflect Trump’s insistence on frequent meetings with favored members of his team. Every president has regular contact with key Cabinet members, but Trump, who remains deeply mistrustful of career agency officials, has turned the White House into a hangout for his chosen department heads.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has met with the president at least 34 times since he was confirmed in February, according to a POLITICO analysis of Trump’s interactions since taking office. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are also frequent guests at the White House — so much so that one White House staffer quipped, “Wilbur practically lives here.” Defense Secretary James Mattis has enjoyed private meetings with the president, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken to eating at the White House mess several times a week.

Senior aides say Trump demands face time with his appointees in part because he doesn’t trust bureaucrats who do the day-to-day work of the federal government. The president shuns them as tools of what he often refers to as the “deep state,” and blames them for frequent, unflattering news stories coming from his White House, according to two White House aides…

Two administration officials said the parade of Cabinet officials going into the White House on a daily basis has prompted worries that their focus is being diverted from the day-to-day operations of their departments and agencies.

“We’ll see how long it lasts,” one of the officials said, noting that many secretaries don’t yet have a full cast of undersecretaries to brief top White House officials. “They don’t have their politicals yet, so some of it is a necessity.”…

Some of the Cabinet officials are also his friends, and they are beckoned to the president for political advice, even if it’s outside the purview of their agency…

One senior administration official said White House staff members understand the president’s desire to rely on agency heads to learn about complex issues, but they wish that the meetings would be coordinated in advance. Instead, Cabinet secretaries like Mnuchin and Ross just stroll in with little notice.

Others in the administration remain concerned that Cabinet officials are spending too much time schmoozing with the president and attending events, and not enough at their agencies…

Just a buncha guys from the old neighborhood, hangin’ around, shootin’ the breeze. They’re not running the country, they’re too busy running the ongoing Donald Trump campaign / crime cartel.

THANKS, REPUBLICANS!



The Overarching Middle East Problem Set: Proxy War and Forced Realignment

Over the past several weeks the just below the surface proxy wars and attempts to forcefully realign Middle Eastern politics, power dynamics, and alliances have come into full view. Over the past two weeks the Saudis and Emiratis have attempted to isolate their erstwhile Qatari partner. Turkey and Iran have come to Qatar’s aid as a result of the Saudi led blockade. ISIL conducted an attack in Iran and Iran retaliated with a missile strike on ISIL in Syria. We’ve also had ongoing Saudi operations against the Zaydi/Fiver Shi’a Houthis in Yemen and the ongoing low intensity war in Libya.

All of these actions and events have one thing in common: they are all about attempts to forcefully realign the politics, power dynamics, and alliances within the Middle East. A significant portion of this attempt to remake the Middle East’s political map is the result of a several year old proxy war between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey for hegemony in the Middle East. This proxy war is being fought over who will be the preeminent regional power; a power that will speak not just for the region, but for Islam. And this latter component is a major complication. The Saudis are promoting the Wahhabi understanding of tawheed – the radical unity of the Deity, which also forms the basis for both al Qaeda’s and ISIL’s doctrine/theology. Iran seeks hegemony not just to represent the Ithna Ashari/Twelver Shi’a that are the majority in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, a significant plurality in Lebanon, a significant minority in Syria – including the Alawite sect, and are a minority in several of the other Gulf states, but also on behalf of the Ismaili/Sevener and Zaydi/Fiver Shi’a throughout the region. Finally, Erdogan’s Turkey seeks to not just reassume its historic role of being the North-South and East-West bridge and power player in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the trans-Caucasus, but also to represent and speak for Islam throughout the region. Specifically Erdogan’s politicized Islam.

Against this backdrop we also have the ongoing activities of al Qaeda’s regional proxies throughout the Middle East, as well as ISIL’s ever more tenuous attempt to hold on to actual physical territory as part of their self proclaimed caliphate: the Islamic State/al dawlah al Islamiyah.

Read more