Something Important to Consider

Earlier this evening, in the comments to my post about the concerns being expressed about the US at the Munich Security Conference, a couple of commenters expressed their views that the US has wasted tons of money interfering all over the world, ignoring international law, and basically doing terrible things. And as a result the US is poorer and the world is worse off than if we had just not done any of it. I’m not some pollyanna who is unaware of the fraught and conflicting history of the US’s international activities post World War II – and in some cases before WW II. However, it is one thing to recognize that we often fall short of our ideals or compromise them because of the domestic politics or failure of leadership or short term fears and simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater of US involvement in international affairs post WW II. The point of the earlier post is that our partners’ and allies’ view of the US, warts and all (and I wrote warts and all in the original post) under the current Administration is beginning to sharply diverge from how most Americans, and American leaders, continue to view the US as being a force for good in the world.

So how have others viewed the US? Here’s one example:

What is described above is just one example of the good that comes from America using its national power – diplomatic, information, military, and economic – within the global system. There are many others. For instance, US Army – Japan’s, as well as other Pacific Command elements’ and US government agencies’ assistance after the tsunami and Fukeshima Daiichi meltdown. There is no one else on the planet, no one, that has the strategic lift capabilities, or the expeditionary forward deployed personnel, to conduct over the horizon, global humanitarian assistance, disaster management, and emergency response. While many countries may contribute when something like the Fukeshima Daiichi disaster happens they rely on the US to get their assets and aid on site. And they rely on the US to have personnel close enough to provide immediate response until everyone else can get moving.

In case it was unclear in the earlier post, or any of my other posts, I’m not arguing that the US is perfect. That we never screw up or that we’re always able to align our values and ideals and our strategic objectives. We do screw up and we quite often fail to align our values and ideals and our strategic objectives. Even worse we elect leaders with feet of clay or who’s personal ambitions outweigh the public good. This doesn’t make us evil. It makes us human.

Rather, my intention in the earlier post, and one’s similar to it, has been to argue that we largely established the post WW II order. And that it has benefited us immensely even as we often didn’t always get it right. But until or unless someone can coherently explain who is going to ensure that the Ground Lines of Commerce and Communication (GLOCCs), Sea Lines of Commerce and Communication (SLOCCs), and Air Lines of Commerce and Communication (ALOCCs) if the US doesn’t. Or how a post US driven international order would work, what it would look like, how it would be more stable, then simply either throwing it all out in pursuit of national populism or badmouthing the US for its failings without recognizing its successes, you’re not constructively moving the conversation forward. You’re just picking nits.

We’re not perfect. We screw up. But if you think Vladimir Putin is going to provide strategic lift and take the lead in doing humanitarian assistance, disaster management, and emergency response if the US pulls back or that the People’s Republic of China will, then you are deluding yourself. One day the PRC may be ready and willing and able to do so, but they aren’t now. And even if they reach the point where they have those capabilities, they may not have the desire or will to do so.

What do you think is going to happen if/when the Kim regime fails/falls in North Korea? Sure, the People’s Republic of China is going to have to play a huge role in the response, as will South Korea. Especially for the political, social, and economic responses. But a great deal of that response is going to be humanitarian and the US will be in the lead for that. Not just because its in our best interest to quickly secure North Korea’s nuclear stockpile, but because it is in our interest, as well as in line with our national values, to prevent millions of impoverished North Koreans from over running the Peoples Republic of China, South Korea, and possibly Japan as refugees. This would destabilize the Asia-Pacific region quickly overwhelming the states and societies there, throwing the regional, and possibly the global, economy into chaos. And leading to untold amounts of suffering.

As for Russia, as long as Vladimir Putin runs Russia in order to benefit himself and his select group of oligarchs and agents, it will never have the capabilities, let alone the intentions to pick up the slack. The US is not an indispensable Nation because over the long course of history no Nation-state or person is indispensable. But until or unless someone else demonstrates they have the will and the capability to step up, the US’s role in the global system is as close to indispensable as can be.

And with that I wish you all a goodnight.

This is How You See the World. This is How We See It!

To Steal the Sky is the late 80s HBO docudrama about Israel’s Operation Diamond that resulted in the theft of an Iraqi MiG 21 by Iraqi fighter pilot Munir Redfa. At the 52 minute mark, Ben Cross playing Redfa, stands up to leave the room where he’s meeting with Israeli intelligence officers and walks past a map on the wall next to the door with magnetic backed fighter jet miniatures in Jordan, Syria, and Iraq facing towards Israel. He stops, moves the jets into Israel, points them out towards Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, and states: “This is how you see the world. This is how we we see it!”

The discussion report from the just concluded Munich Security Conference is a report entitled Munich Security Report 2017: Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order? The report is intended to set the terms for discussion at the conference (h/t: Robin Wright via Digby). Interestingly Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks at this year’s Munich Security Conference provocatively mirrored the reports title:

Russia’s foreign minister has called for a “post-West world order” while addressing global leaders at an international security conference.

Sergey Lavrov accused Nato of being a Cold War institution and accused its “expansion” of sparking unprecedented tensions in Europe as both sides expand military deployments and drills.

He said he hoped “responsible leaders” will choose to create a “just world order – if you want you can call it a post-West world order”.

The foreword to the discussion report, written by German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, the conference chair, states:

The international security environment is arguably more volatile today than at any point since World War II. Some of the most fundamental pillars of the West and of the liberal international order are weakening. Adversaries of open societies are on the offensive. Liberal democracies have proven to be vulnerable to disinformation campaigns in post-truth international politics. Citizens of democracies believe less and less that their systems are able to deliver positive outcomes for them and increasingly favor national solutions and closed borders over globalism and openness. Illiberal regimes, on the other hand, seem to be on solid footing and act with assertiveness, while the willingness and ability of Western democracies to shape international affairs and to defend the rules-based liberal order are declining. The United States might move from being a provider of public goods and international security to pursuing a more unilateralist, maybe even nationalistic foreign policy. We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age, one in which non-Western actors are shaping international affairs, often in parallel or even to the detriment of precisely those multilateral frameworks that have formed the bedrock of the liberal international order since 1945. Are we entering a post-order world? How this question will be answered in the years to come will depend on all of us.

Ambassador Ischinger provides additional context in the video trailer for the conference:

I want to reemphasize this sentence from Ambassador Ischinger’s foreword:

The United States might move from being a provider of public goods and international security to pursuing a more unilateralist, maybe even nationalistic foreign policy. We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age, one in which non-Western actors are shaping international affairs, often in parallel or even to the detriment of precisely those multilateral frameworks that have formed the bedrock of the liberal international order since 1945.

The United states has long viewed itself as one of, if not the primary architect of the post WW II international order and global system, as well as its defender. While many Americans, including American leaders, still do as evidenced by both the Vice President’s and Defense Secretary Mattis’s statements at the conference in regards to the importance of NATO and American intention to honor our commitments, we have reached the point where how we see ourselves and our intentions, warts and all, is increasingly at odds with how our allies and partners see the US and its intentions. We’ve reached the point where Cross’s statement, in his portrayal of Captain Redfa, rings more and more true: “This is How You See the World. This is How We See It!”

Open Thread: Moving the Goalposts on Leaks, or Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic?

There’s a portion of the Republican Party that’s been trying since the mid-1970s to get a “reset” on Watergate — people convinced that if not for one or two bad breaks, the American people would’ve totally understood that President Nixon only treated us like that because he loved us and knew better than we did what America really needed. The Iran-contra scandal didn’t satisfy those GOPers, because the international criminality involved was so brazen that it needed to be swept under whatever Persian rugs were available. The Cheney Regency wasn’t good, because Dubya was such a blatant fvck-up that everybody laughed at him. But time keeps passing, the original keepers of the flame are gone — President-Asterisk Trump is their last hope, dammit!!!

Read more

Early Morning Open Thread: Trump’s Insane Presser, Foreign Affairs Section

Gonna be harping on this for a while yet, cuz there’s a lot to pick apart…

(Why it matters that the reporter was Haredim)

Self-described “Former independent presidential candidate, CIA operative”:

Meanwhile, out in the real world…

Late Night LOL NOTHING MATTERS Open Thread: “Not Naked! Alternatively Clothed!”

Politico (of course) reports that some people liked the President-Asterisk’s performance:

It was Trump’s decision to hold such an extended news conference and it was made Thursday morning, according to a White House aide briefed on the matter. After weeks of getting pounded by the media — something the president has privately and publicly fumed about — he made it clear to advisers that he wanted to speak in an unfiltered way…

One person close to Trump said he showed an “unusually long” attention span they hadn’t seen often in the White House. And two sources close to the president said he was happy with his performance — and that he felt he was seizing back control of a narrative of his presidency he had lost.

The reviews outside the White House were more mixed. “The guy up there seems crazy,” said one senior GOP aide. “I’ve thought that the whole time.”

The aide acknowledged, though, that the audience wasn’t necessarily Washington. “But how does this play outside the Beltway? It might play pretty well. I can’t say if he killed it or if he was terrible. I just know I was watching the whole time, the whole hour and 20 minutes,” the aide said.

“We were all riveted. Were you not? Have you ever seen a press conference like that from a president?…

The president said he wasn’t “ranting and raving” even as he ranted and raved. “Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars,” he said, without specifying what drug or what candy bar. He said “80 percent” of a court’s rulings were overturned and admitted there was no proof for the number, saying that he heard the number somewhere.

He torched the intelligence community for leaking damaging information about his administration and said the reporting was “fake” from the news media. “The leaks are absolutely real,” he said, complaining about them. Seconds later, he said: “The news is fake.” It was difficult to understand how both could be true…

There are other audiences…

Read more

What Did He Know and When Did He Know It II

From the NY Times reporting we now have Geographic Combatant Commanders concerned about the stability of their own government:

Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, expressed concern about upheaval inside the White House. “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” he said at a military conference on Tuesday.

Asked about his comments later, General Thomas said in a brief interview, “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.”

Once again we must ask: what did the President know and when did he know it? And we must expand that to the Vice President, the Chief of Staff, and a variety of others within the President’s inner circle.

As I wrote back in January before the then President-elect’s press conference:

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

I can now state that just based on open source reporting and social media behavior I can place almost everyone in the President’s inner circle, professional and familial, as well as the President within three links, and in most cases two links, of Vladimir Putin or those within Putin’s orbit including Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs close to Putin. Rather than trying to make this go away, the President and those serving him seem to be unable to stop what they’re doing. And this is just through the first three weeks.

We are through the map and off the looking glass.

* Full disclosure: From May through August 2015 I was a Senior Fellow in the Center for Special Operations Study and Research at SOCOM’s Joint Special Operations University. Prior to that I have provided support to SOCOM’s Civil Affairs Branch Capabilities Based Assessment in 2010 and to SOCOM’s Joint Civil Information Management Test Development (J-CIM TD) in 2010 and 2011 and helped write and edit the J-CIM Manuals and Handbook, and briefed members of the SOCOM J2 and J3 on terrorism and recidivism in April 2009.

GOP Venality Open Thread: REMAIN CALM! ALL IS WELL!

Sooo… let me see if I have the timeline correct… when Acting Attorney General Sally Yates ordered her Dept. of Justice lawyers not to enforce Trump’s totally-not-a-Muslim-ban Executive Order, she already had a pretty good idea his minions were looking for an excuse to fire her? As they did?

How many of us expected the Trump Administration to reach Nixon-post-Watergate levels of corrupt incompetence during its very first month?

And the leading lights of the GOP Congress step forward to cover themselves with… well, it ain’t glory…