Archive for the ‘Trump and Putin’ category

Trump’s Greatest Deal

March 24, 2017

Trump’s Greatest Deal, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, March 24, 2017

(Before the Flynn debacle, Trump’s efforts to get Russia to divorce itself from Iran appeared to be proceeding well. Please see, Highly Classified National Security Information Must Not be Leaked. Part b of the article is titled “Flynn telephone conversations.” Part c is titled “General Flynn, Russia and Iran.” Flynn’s departure from the Trump administration and America’s current Russophobia do not augur well for future success in pushing for the divorce. — DM)

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

If Trump can convince Russia to ditch Iran, then he has a chance of dismantling the regime in Tehran and so defusing the Iranian nuclear program and destroying Hezbollah without having to fight a major war.

The payoff to Russia for agreeing to such a deal would be significant. But if Trump were to adopt this policy, the US has a lot of bargaining chips that it can use to convince Putin to walk away from the ayatollahs long enough for the US to defuse the threat they pose to its interests.

The problem with the Russia strategy is that since Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, the Democrats, their allied media outlets and powerful forces in the US intelligence community have been beset by a Russia hysteria unseen since the Red scares in the 1920s and 1950s.

The fact that Obama bent over backward to cater to Putin’s interests for eight years has been pushed down the memory hole.

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What can be done about Iran? In Israel, a dispute is reportedly raging between the IDF and the Mossad about the greatest threat facing Israel. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot thinks that Hezbollah is the greatest threat facing Israel. Mossad Director Yossi Cohen thinks Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest danger facing the Jewish state.

While the media highlight the two men’s disagreement, the underlying truth about their concerns has been ignored.

Hezbollah and Iran’s nuclear program are two aspects of the same threat: the regime in Tehran.

Hezbollah is a wholly owned subsidiary of the regime. If the regime disappeared, Hezbollah would fall apart. As for the nuclear installations, in the hands of less fanatical leaders, they would represent a far less acute danger to global security.

So if you undermine the Iranian regime, you defeat Hezbollah and defuse the nuclear threat.

If you fail to deal with the regime in Tehran, both threats will continue to grow no matter what you do, until they become all but insurmountable.

So what can be done about Tehran? With each passing day we discover new ways Iran endangers Israel and the rest of the region.

This week we learned Iran has built underground weapons factories in Lebanon. The facilities are reportedly capable of building missiles, drones, small arms and ammunition. Their underground location protects them from aerial bombardment.

Then there is Hezbollah’s relationship to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

For more than a decade, the Americans have been selling themselves the implausible claim that the LAF is a responsible fighting force capable and willing to rein in Hezbollah. Never an easy claim – the LAF provided targeting information to Hezbollah missile crews attacking Israel in 2006 – after Hezbollah domesticated the Lebanese government in 2008, the claim became downright silly. And yet, over the past decade, the US has provided the LAF with weapons worth in excess of $1 billion. In 2016 alone the US gave the LAF jets, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and missiles worth more than $220 million.

In recent months, showing that Iran no longer feels the need to hide its control over Lebanon, the LAF has openly stated that it is working hand in glove with Hezbollah.

Last November, Hezbollah showcased US M113 armored personnel carriers with roof-mounted Russian anti-aircraft guns, at a military parade in Syria. The next month the Americans gave the LAF a Hellfire missile-equipped Cessna aircraft with day and night targeting systems.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun is a Hezbollah ally. So is Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf and LAF commander Gen. Joseph Aoun.

Last month President Aoun told Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, that Hezbollah serves “a complementary role to the Lebanese army.”

And yet the Americans insist that it continues to make sense – and to be lawful – to arm the LAF.

You can hardly blame them. Denial is an attractive option, given the alternatives.

For the past eight years, the Obama administration did everything in its power to empower Iran. To make Iran happy, Obama did nothing as hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed and millions more were forced to flee their homes by Iran and its puppet Bashar Assad.

Obama allowed Iran to take over the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military. He sat back as Iran’s Houthi proxy overthrew the pro-US regime in Yemen.

And of course, the crowning achievement of Obama’s foreign policy was his nuclear deal with the mullahs. Obama’s deal gives Iran an open path to a nuclear arsenal in a bit more than a decade and enriches the regime beyond Ayatollah Khamenei’s wildest dreams.

Obama empowered Iran at the expense of the US’s Sunni allies and Israel, and indeed, at the expense of the US’s own superpower status in the region, to enable the former president to withdraw the US from the Middle East.

Power of course, doesn’t suffer a vacuum, and the one that Obama created was quickly filled.

For decades, Russia has been Iran’s major arms supplier. It has assisted Iran with its nuclear program and with its ballistic missile program. Russia serves as Iran’s loyal protector at the UN Security Council.

But for all the help it provided Tehran through the years, Moscow never presented itself as Iran’s military defender.

That all changed in September 2015. Two months after Obama cut his nuclear deal with the ayatollahs, Russia deployed its forces to Syria on behalf of Iran and its Syrian and Lebanese proxies.

In so doing, Russia became the leading member and the protector of the Iranian axis.

Russia’s deployment of forces had an immediate impact not only on the war in Syria, but on the regional power balance as a whole. With Russia serving as the air force for Iran and its Syrian and Hezbollah proxies, the Assad regime’s chances of survival increased dramatically. So did Iran’s prospects for regional hegemony.

For Obama, this situation was not without its advantages.

In his final year in office, Obama’s greatest concern was ensuring that his nuclear deal with Iran would outlive his presidency. Russia’s deployment in Syria as the protector of Iran and its proxies was a means of achieving this end.

Russia’s alliance with Iran made attacking Iran’s nuclear program or its Hezbollah proxy a much more dangerous prospect than it had been before.

After all, in 2006, Russia supported Iran and Hezbollah in their war against Israel. But Russia’s support for Iran and its Lebanese legion didn’t diminish Israel’s operational freedom. Israel was able to wage war without any fear that its operations would place it in a direct confrontation with the Russian military.

This changed in September 2015.

The first person to grasp the strategic implications of the Russian move was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu recognized that with Russian forces on the ground in Syria, the only way for Israel to take even remedial measures to protect itself from Iran and its proxies was to drive a wedge between President Vladimir Putin and the ayatollahs wide enough to enable Israel to continue its raids against weapons convoys to Hezbollah and other targets without risking a confrontation with Russia. This is the reason that Netanyahu boarded a flight to Moscow to speak to Putin almost immediately after the Russian leader deployed his forces to Syria.

Israel’s ability to continue to strike targets in Syria, whether along the border on the Golan Heights or deep within Syrian territory, is a function of Netanyahu’s success in convincing Putin to limit his commitment to his Iranian allies.

Since President Donald Trump entered the White House, Iran has been his most urgent foreign policy challenge. Unlike Obama, Trump recognizes that Iran’s nuclear program and its threats to US economic and strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and the Levant cannot be wished away.

And so he has decided to deal with Iran.

The question is, what is he supposed to do? Trump has three basic options.

He can cut a deal with Russia. He can act against Iran without cutting a deal with Russia. And he can do nothing, or anemically maintain Obama’s pro-Iran policies.

The first option has the greatest potential strategic payoff. If Trump can convince Russia to ditch Iran, then he has a chance of dismantling the regime in Tehran and so defusing the Iranian nuclear program and destroying Hezbollah without having to fight a major war.

The payoff to Russia for agreeing to such a deal would be significant. But if Trump were to adopt this policy, the US has a lot of bargaining chips that it can use to convince Putin to walk away from the ayatollahs long enough for the US to defuse the threat they pose to its interests.

The problem with the Russia strategy is that since Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, the Democrats, their allied media outlets and powerful forces in the US intelligence community have been beset by a Russia hysteria unseen since the Red scares in the 1920s and 1950s.

The fact that Obama bent over backward to cater to Putin’s interests for eight years has been pushed down the memory hole.

Also ignored is the fact that during her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton approved deals with the Russians that were arguably antithetical to US interests while the Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars in contributions from Russian businessmen and companies closely allied with Putin.

Since November 8, the Democrats and their clapping seals in the media and allies in the US intelligence community have banged the war drums against Russia, accusing Trump and his advisers of serving as Russian patsies at best, and Russian agents at worst.

In this climate, it would be politically costly for Trump to implement a Russian-based strategy for dismantling the Iranian threat.

This brings us to the second option, which is to confront Iran and Russia. Under this option, US action against Iran could easily cause hostilities to break out between the US and Russia. It goes without saying that the political fallout from making a deal with Russia would be nothing compared to the political consequences if Trump were to take the US down a path that led to war with Russia.

Obviously, the economic and human costs of such a confrontation would be prohibitive regardless of the political consequences.

This leaves us with the final option of doing nothing, or anemically continuing to implement Obama’s policies, as the Americans are doing today.

Although tempting, the hard truth is that this is the most dangerous policy of all.

You need only look to North Korea to understand why this is so.

Seemingly on a daily basis, Pyongyang threatens to nuke America. And the US has no good options for dealing with the threat.

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged during his recent trip to Asia, decades of US diplomacy regarding North Korea’s nuclear program did nothing to diminish or delay the threat.

North Korea has been able to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles while threatening the US with destruction because North Korea enjoys the protection of China. If not for the Chinese, the US would long ago have dealt a death blow to the regime.

Israel has moved Russia as far away from Iran as it can on its own. It is enough to stop convoys of North Korean weapons from crossing into Lebanon.

But it isn’t enough to cause serious harm to Tehran or its clients.

The only government that can do that is the American government.

Trump built his career by mastering the art of deal making. And he recognized that Obama’s deal with Iran is not the masterpiece Obama and his allies claim but a catastrophe.

The Iran deal Trump needs to make with the Russians is clear. The only question is whether he is willing to pay the political price it requires.

Report: Trump putting potential diplomatic deal with Russia on the back burner

March 7, 2017

Report: Trump putting potential diplomatic deal with Russia on the back burner, Hot Air, Allahpundit, March 7, 2017

Needless to say, here’s another motive for why anti-Trumpers inside the federal bureaucracy may be leaking at politically inconvenient times for Trump. Reminding the public that some of his aides are under suspicion because of their contacts with Russia is a clever way to force Trump to postpone any planned diplomatic outreach to Russia at moments when he feels his political capital cresting. Trump might eventually be in a position to swing a deal with Moscow, but so long as Russia hawks within the administration are dribbling out material from the investigation that puts a cloud over the White House, it’ll look suspicious for him to make nice with Putin.

And so, inevitably, Trump is reportedly backing away from any “grand bargain” for now.

President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve, at least temporarily, his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats…

Trump’s new skepticism about brokering a deal with Moscow also suggests the rising influence of a new set of advisers who have taken a tougher stance on Russia, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. During his first meeting with National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia — as well as China — as a country that wants to upend the current world order, according to an administration official who attended the meeting…

European allies also have been pushing the Trump administration not to make any early concessions to Russia. To bolster their case, European officials have tailored their rhetoric to appeal to Trump’s business background, including emphasizing the risks of negotiating a bad deal, rather than more nuanced arguments, according to one Western diplomat. Given Trump’s “America First” mantra, foreign officials emphasize how U.S. standing in the world could be diminished by making concessions to Russia instead of focusing on the importance of the U.S. and Europe sticking together to counter Moscow.

The most interesting detail in the AP story: In talks with his staff, Trump supposedly singled out Russia’s violation of the 1987 INF Treaty as making a deal “tougher and tougher to achieve,” a message that’s been relayed to U.S. allies in Europe too. I wrote about that here. It’s genuinely confounding. If Russia wants a compliant Washington, why would it choose to violate the treaty by deploying intermediate-range missiles aimed at Europe when it surely knows that Trump hates being seen as “weak” and won’t look the other way? Putin seemed to understand how to deal with him late last year when he refused to retaliate against the sanctions imposed on Russia by Obama for trying to interfere in the presidential campaign. That was Moscow signaling to the world that it expected those sanctions to be lifted by the new administration unilaterally. (Which was a damning sign of how conciliatory they expected Trump to be, but whatever.) Putin could have responded in kind but instead chose to preserve the status quo on its end as a goodwill gesture to Trump. And Trump appreciated it.

They didn’t preserve the status quo in deploying their missiles, though, a much more provocative way of challenging Trump than reciprocal sanctions would have been. You can cook up a scenario in which Putin violated the treaty in the expectation that he’d use the missiles as a bargaining chip during negotiations to come with the White House. E.g., maybe he thought Trump might bite on a deal that would trade decommissioning the missiles for the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia, including the 2014 measures imposed to punish them over Ukraine. The problem with that theory, though, is that once the missiles are in the field, as they are now, then Trump has already lost face, and regaining it requires a show of strength. The White House may well end up demanding that the missiles be withdrawn as a precondition of negotiations rather than as something to be haggled over during the process. The smart play, it seems, would have been for Putin to roll out the missiles last fall, to defy Obama, and then withdraw them voluntarily after Trump took office as a goodwill gesture, to invite further negotiations. The better behaved Putin seems during Trump’s early presidency, the more Americans might be willing to let Trump negotiate with him to see what else he can get from Russia. Instead, Russia has engaged in various petty provocations, culminating in the more serious escalation of violating the INF Treaty. Why? If it’s true that they were hoping Trump would win the election, how does it make sense to box him in politically so that he can’t make concessions to Moscow without looking horribly weak and corrupt even if he wanted to?

If you want to go full cloak-and-dagger, you could theorize that the missiles were deployed because Russia wants to give Trump a chance to stand up to them. Putin may have concluded that the Kremlin’s interference in the election worked too well insofar as many Americans now suspect that Russia has influence over the president. That makes negotiations hard, even if preceded by unilateral concessions by Moscow. The only way to really create political space for diplomacy under this theory is to manufacture a minor diplomatic confrontation like the INF violation, have Trump demand that the missiles be withdrawn, and then comply in the hope that it’ll convince Americans Trump is being “tough” on Moscow and driving a hard bargain. Once Trump has earned the trust of his own doubters here at home, he’ll be free to make a sweetheart deal with Putin. That theory’s hard to buy, though: Putin needs to look tough to Russians even more so than Trump needs to look tough to Americans, and toughness typically doesn’t involve backing down in a (manufactured) confrontation. Plus, given the shift in Russian media lately, it seems as though the Kremlin is sincerely warier of Trump lately than it used to be. If they’ve already decided that Trump will be more of an enemy than a friend, it’ll be the quickest reassessment by a foreign power in modern history.

If you want a glimpse of what Europe’s future might look like if Trump doesn’t get Putin to withdraw those missiles, go read this. Exit question: If you subscribe to the theory that Russia was/is all-in for Trump as president, how do you explain the fact that Trump now feels unable, however temporarily, to approach Moscow for a deal? Did the Russian interference succeed so well that it’s made cooperation impossible? On what planet does that constitute “success”?

Russian Roulette

March 6, 2017

Russian Roulette, PJ MediaRoger Kimball, March 6, 2017

(Rex Features via AP Images)

It may be about time to add a new chapter to Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Mackey dilated on scams like the South Sea Bubble and wild speculations like Tulipmania in 17th century Holland, when a single tulip bulb could sell for more than a mansion.

There was the distinct aroma of fraudulence, abetted by naïveté, about most of the enterprises Mackay described. And so it is with the new chapter I am proposing. It might be called “Russian Roulette.” I am thinking not of the messy game with a revolver, but rather the insinuation sweepstakes currently being deployed against Donald Trump by the Democrats and their pets in the media.

Since the game is still in process, we cannot quite finish the chapter. But we know how it starts. It starts with groundless accusations that Donald Trump and/or his surrogates somehow “colluded,” had illicit ties with, the Russians. Maybe he helped them “hack the election.” Maybe he is Putin’s puppet. We don’t quite know. But this calls for a “special prosecutor” (even though such a thing doesn’t exist), a criminal investigation, the impeachment or at least the delegitimization of Donald Trump and all his works.

Last week, Holman Jenkins had an excellent, sobering-up piece on the Left’s “Putin Fantasies.” He quickly dispatches all the usual suspects: Paul Manafort, Roger Cohen, Carter Page, et al. He quotes “veteran foreign correspondent Susan B. Glasser,” who treats readers of the New York Times to this breathless animadversion:

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and actions as president bear more than a passing resemblance to those of Mr. Putin during his first years consolidating power. The similarities are striking enough that they should not be easily dismissed.

Oh, yes: “The similarities are indeed striking,” Jenkins observes. “Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump both have arms and legs. When it comes to distinguishing noise from signal, however, two men could not be less alike”:

Russia was a country in chaos. Its president was a drunk seeking a successor to protect his daughter and friends from corruption investigations. Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent and head of the secret police, ran one of the few, after a fashion, functioning institutions in Russia, albeit arm in arm with organized crime.

Mr. Trump’s rise couldn’t be more different. He’s a reality TV star and brand manager. To an unusual degree, he’s a president who lacks even a party. Meanwhile, the courts, the bureaucracy, the media, the political parties all continue to function as they always have.

“Striking similarities” underwritten by categorical differences.

No, when it comes to this new game of Russian Roulette, Ted Cruz got it right: it is a “nothingburger.”

Well, not quite nothing. So far, there is no evidence of malfeasance, of anything improper or illegal. But there is plenty of anchorless animus directed at Trump by the Democrats and their media pets. So far, it amounts to what William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has called “The fact-free Intelligence Community-Media trial of Trump by innuendo.”

Here’s how it works.  You start with a lurid — but totally unsubstantiated — allegation. To wit: Senator Chris Coons (D., natch) to Dem. pet Andrea Mitchell March 3:

There are transcripts that provide very helpful, very critical insight into whether or not Russian intelligence and Senior Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, um, were cooperating, were colluding, with the Trump campaign at the highest levels to influence our election.

Yikes! Transcripts and evidence of collusion at the highest levels to influence our election. Andrea Mitchell sure liked that:

Actually, it’s holy smoke and mirrors.

On March 3 it was “transcripts,” Russians “colluding” with the Trump campaign “at the highest levels to influence our election.” But by March 5 it was “I have no hard evidence of collusion.

No “hard” evidence, of course, means no evidence of any kind.

I adduce the example of Chris Coons, but remarks by Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, et al. — not to mention the yapping of any of the pack of chihuahuas that is the Democratic pocket press — would do just as well.

Take a damaging allegation: the infamous “dossier” against Trump, for example. It doesn’t make any difference that it is totally unsubstantiated. Just run with it.

All Democratic outlets — CNN, MSNBC, Washington Post, New York Times — echo it. Is it untrue? Doesn’t matter. It might still have the desired effect of undermining public confidence in Trump even if it is eventually exploded.

But what if you are Donald Trump? Well, that’s different. Let’s say you make allegations that the Obama administration conducted surveillance against you in the final months and weeks of the election.

Not so fast! Where’s your proof?

Actually, there’s plenty of proof. Andy McCarthy noted a few days ago:

[T]he Obama Justice Department and the FBI sought FISA warrants against Trump insiders, and potentially against Donald Trump himself, during the last months and weeks of the presidential campaign.

Even the New York Times admitted as much, if inadvertently, in a story about various investigations in Trump’s alleged “Russia ties”:

The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks buthave found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.

Just to parse that a bit: by “no conclusive evidence” the Times means the same thing that Senator Coons meant by “no hard evidence,” i.e., no evidence at all.

And although Nancy Pelosi responded to Trump’s allegation that Trump Tower had been secretly wiretapped by saying “We don’t do that,” it turns out, as the Times acknowledges, that they do.

Holman Jenkins noted in passing that Donald Trump is “a reality TV star and brand manager.” That’s right. He’s cut from a different bolt of cloth than the Democratic (and most of the Republican) confraternity. That’s one reason they so despise him.

Another, and deeper, reason is this: If Donald Trump is successful in draining the swamp of Washington, D.C., if he can effectively take on the unions, secure our Southern border, cut wasteful regulation, neuter the EPA, substantially dismantle the administrative state, and achieve 3-4% growth, all of those swamp creatures will be out of a habitat.

In other words, Trump represents an existential threat to their way of life. Hence their angry and hysterical war against him. Mostly, it is true, their attacks are self-refuting. But make no mistake. The Left is out to cripple Trump.

As I said in this space Saturday, he needs to fight back, and hard. The Left has declared war on Donald Trump. I am glad to see that he has woken up to that fact and is responding in kind.

Farage on Trump: The EU Is ‘Absolutely Terrified of Him – Good’

February 24, 2017

Farage on Trump: The EU Is ‘Absolutely Terrified of Him – Good’, PJ MediaNicholas Ballasy, February 24, 2017

farageatcpacNigel Farage at the UKIP spring conference Feb. 17, 2017, in Bolton, UK. (Rex Features via AP Images)

“You know, with 34 days in I think that he clearly has the intention of a man who intends to put into place the ticket on which he was elected, and how refreshing is that in a democracy? We are not used to it,” he said. “My guess is he’ll be feeling a bit frustrated with the judges and other people; I would just like to see him to stock to what he’s doing. I mean, maybe he is going to have to box clever to get some of his stuff through, but basically don’t change.”

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party, told PJM that there is “nothing to be lost” with President Trump meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that Trump has to show he’s “not going to be a pushover.”

“Well, he has to show he wants to have a better relationship with Russia. He believes we have shared common interests in dealing with Islamic terrorism and issues like that but he’s not going to be a pushover — that’s what you’ve got to show,” Farage said during an interview Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington.

“He’s going to say, ‘Look, you’ve behaved badly but we want to form a grown-up relationship with you.’ One thing is for certain, there’s nothing to be lost with him meeting Putin. Nothing at all,” he added.

Farage rejected the notion that the U.S. cannot make a good deal with Russia.

“They are small-minded, very silly people who don’t understand there is a thing in life called human chemistry. Trump himself said ‘I may not get along with him,’ but the very fact he is prepared to meet is grown-up policy. The great Winston Churchill said jaw-jaw is better than war-war and I’m with that,” he said.

Farage told PJM that Trump should “stick” to what he has been doing in office and not change anything.

“You know, with 34 days in I think that he clearly has the intention of a man who intends to put into place the ticket on which he was elected, and how refreshing is that in a democracy? We are not used to it,” he said. “My guess is he’ll be feeling a bit frustrated with the judges and other people; I would just like to see him to stick to what he’s doing. I mean, maybe he is going to have to box clever to get some of his stuff through, but basically don’t change.”

British lawmakers recently debated whether they should withdraw a state visit invitation to Trump. Some European leaders have voiced opposition to Trump’s travel ban that covers seven Muslim-majority countries. Farage was asked if Trump should tweak any of his policy positions given the criticism he has faced from some world leaders.

“Obviously, the world is watching on the Russian stuff to see exactly where this goes. On issues like that people will be looking for a bit more clarity because he wants to have better relations – what exactly does that mean?” he said. “And the world will be looking for that and the European Union are terrified of him, absolutely terrified of him. Good.”

During the interview, Farage shared his reaction to far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen recently refusing to wear a headscarf in Lebanon in order to meet with the Grand Mufti.

“Listen, good for her. You know, she’s a strong woman. It remains to be seen what the runoff is going to be, it’s going to be fascinating. France is where the action is going to be. The global revolution of ’16 could keep rolling,” said the leader of the 2016 Brexit movement.

Off Topic | Wayne Barrett, Donald Trump, and the Death of the American Press

February 23, 2017

Wayne Barrett, Donald Trump, and the Death of the American Press, Tablet MagazineLee Smith, February 23, 2017

(Please see also, Off Topic:  A Purblind Press, Unable To Admit Error, Boycotts the President. — DM)

How did we get from ‘Village Voice’ reporters digging up everything there is to know about a flashy New York real estate salesman to not knowing anything about the President of the United States and his ties to Russia?

So when does the other shoe drop? Who’s going to break the story proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president of the United States is so deeply connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the White House has become a Muscovite colony in all but name?

Time to use some common sense—it’s not going to happen, there is no story. The narrative that Donald Trump is effectively Putin’s prison wife is an information operation orchestrated by Democratic hands, many of whom served in the Obama administration, sectors of the intelligence community, and much of the American press. The purpose of the campaign is to delegitimize Trump’s presidency by continuing to hit on themes drawn from the narrative that Russia “hacked” the election and stole it away from Clinton.

The narrative is contorted because it’s not journalism. It’s a story that could only make sense in a profoundly corrupted public sphere, one in which, for instance, Graydon Carter is celebrated for speaking truth to power with an editor’s letter critical of Trump in a magazine that has no other ontological ground in the universe except to celebrate power.

Oh, sure, there are regular hints that there’s still more to come on Trump and his staff’s ties to Russia—the big one is about to hit. But the steady sound of drip-drip-drip is the telltale sign of a political campaign, where items are leaked bit by bit to paralyze the target. Journalists, on the other hand, have to get their story out there as quickly, and as fully, as possible because they’re always worried the competition is going to beat them to it.

No, if Trump really was in bed with the Russians, the story would already be out there, and I’m pretty sure it would have had a Wayne Barrett byline.

When I worked at the Village Voice in the mid-1990s, my office was right around the corner from Barrett’s and his bullpen of interns, a team that kept the heat on local politicians like Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch, and others. Barrett was the first journalist who wrote at length about Trump, starting in the mid-1970s. His biography, Trump: The Deals and the Downfall, was published in 1992, and reissued in 2016 as Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention.

When Trump won the nomination and the pace of Trump stories picked up, Barrett became something of an official archivist, with reporters visiting his Brooklyn house to go through his files in the basement. Anyone who wanted to know what Trump’s deal with Russia was, for instance, would want to talk to Barrett because either he or his team of interns, 40 years’ worth, would have it. After all, New York City is the world capital for information on Russians, even better than Israel—because even though the city got a smaller number of post-Cold War immigrants, New York got a higher percentage of mobsters.

Let’s compare the institution of Wayne Barrett, a subset of the institution of journalism, to the so-called Russia dossier, the document placing Trump in a shady underworld governed by Putin and other Russian thugs. The former includes not only Barrett’s body of work over nearly half a century, but that of the hundreds of journalists he trained, and many thousands of sources whose information is, therefore, able to be cross-checked.

The latter, a congeries of preadolescent pornographic fantasy and spy tales, was authored by a British intelligence officer who has gone to ground since the dossier was made public. The dossier started as work made for hire, first paid for by Republican opponents of Trump and then the Clinton camp, and is sourced to Russian “contacts” who are clearly using the document as an opportunity to proliferate an information operation for perhaps various and as yet unknown purposes. The former is journalism. The latter, part oppo research and part intelligence dump, is garbage. Clearly, it is also the new standard in the field, which is why journalists on both sides of the political spectrum are boasting about their willingness to let their bylines be used as bulletin boards for spy services and call it a “scoop.”

Barrett had Trump on a whole variety of issues, but check the records yourself—up until the day of his death, the day before Trump’s inauguration, there’s nothing on Trump and Putin. Does this mean Trump is totally clean? Who knows? But the journalists now clamoring like maniacs about Trump’s ties sure aren’t going to find it. They’re thin-skinned hacks outraged that Trump dared violate the inherent dignity of that most important of American political institutions, the presidential press conference. And as we all know, this is the apex of real journalism, where esteemed members of the press sit side by side with other masters of the craft to see who gets their question televised.

Does Trump really believe the media are “an enemy of the people”? Please. Let’s remember how he rode his wave to fame on the back of the New York Post’s Page Six (and Graydon Carter’s Spy magazine). He still speaks regularly to the head of CNN (aka “Fake News”), Jeff Zucker, who put him on The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice at NBC, where Trump sat atop the Nielsens for 13 years. Trump uses his Twitter feed to boost his replacement Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings because the president still has a credit as executive producer. No, Trump, doesn’t hate the media. Like Howard Stern, he sees himself as the king of all media. What he’s doing here is playing gladiator in front of an audience that wants to see the lions slain.

Maybe Trump deserves the heat with the fake Russia stories. He backed the Obama birth certificate story, and what goes around comes around. But the American public sure doesn’t deserve a press like this.

Trump adviser Steve Bannon calls the media the opposition party, but that’s misleading. Everyone knows that the press typically tilts left, and no one is surprised, for instance, that The New York Times has not endorsed a Republican candidate since 1956. But that’s not what we’re seeing now—rather, the media has become an instrument in a campaign of political warfare. What was once an American political institution and a central part of the public sphere became something more like state-owned media used to advance the ruling party’s agenda and bully the opposition into silence. Russia’s RT network, the emir of Qatar’s Al Jazeera network—indeed, all of the Arab press—and media typically furnished by Third World regimes became the American press’ new paradigm; not journalism, but information operation.

How did this happen? It’s not about a few journalists, many of whom still do honor to the profession, or a few papers or networks. It’s a structural issue. Much of it is because of the wounds the media inflicted on itself, but it was also partly due to something like a natural catastrophe that no one could have predicted, or controlled.

***

I was at the Voice when the meteor hit. Like many papers back then, dailies and weeklies, the Voice made its money on classified advertising. The New York Times, for instance, had three important classifieds sections—employment, automotive, and housing—but if New Yorkers really wanted to find a great apartment, they’d line up at the newsstand on 42nd Street to get a copy of the Voice hot off the press.

And then the internet came along, and it was all there in one place—for free. The press panicked. The Voice’s publisher at the time, David Schneiderman, announced to the staff that the paper was going free. It made no sense, he argued, to keep charging $1 for what consumers could get on the internet for nothing.

Here’s how the staff heard it: Who would want to pay $1 a week to read Nat Hentoff on civil liberties, Robert Christgau on music, Michael Musto on New York nightlife—or Wayne Barrett on the follies of real-estate mogul Donald Trump? That is, who would want to pay $1 a week to feel themselves a part of what the Village Voice had made them feel part of for decades? But at the time, devaluing content was in fashion—which meant, as few saw back then, the profession was digging its own grave.

The American press’ new paradigm: not journalism, but information operation.

In midtown, Tina Brown had taken The New Yorker, a notoriously sleepy rag that entry-level assistants stacked in a corner of their studio apartments to spend a rainy Saturday with a 10,000-word Ved Mehta article, and turned it into a hot book that everyone from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Harvey and Bob Weinstein was talking about. “Buzz” was Tina’s catchword, and she made her writers stars. But something else was happening on the business side that wasn’t good for the content providers.

Before Brown, The New Yorker made its money by selling the magazine to readers who wanted to feel like a part of the world only The New Yorker made available, a cozy world reflected by the modest, but very profitable, number of subscriptions, which hovered around 340,000. Advertising was an afterthought. It may have been the only magazine in history at which the business side held ads because there wasn’t space for them, or because, well, Mr. Shawn might not like them.

Condé Nast owner Si Newhouse, who bought The New Yorker in 1985, and publisher Steve Florio turned the business model on its head when Brown came on in 1992. Forget about making readers pay for content; instead, bill advertisers for access to your readers—charge them for eyeballs. They slashed the subscription price dramatically and readership swelled by many hundreds of thousands. This enabled the sales team to bump up ad rates to levels on par with other Condé Nast glossies, essentially fashion catalogs, that enjoyed much larger readerships, like Vogue, GQ, and Glamour.

The paradox was that The New Yorker lost money because each of the new subscriptions was costly. Paper, printing, and postage are expensive, and even the new ad rates couldn’t cover the costs now that circulation had grown to something like 800,000—not monthly like Vogue, but weekly.

Instead of paying for the cost of high-level reporting and editing, subscribers now cost The New Yorker money. In Brown’s last year at the magazine, The New Yorker lost $10 million—a giant black hole that her successor would endeavor mightily to fill while retaining the magazine’s new subscribers, who had little knowledge of or attachment to the magazine’s prior mix of literary reporting and sophisticated whimsy. If the subscribers didn’t feel interested and flattered, the magazine was sunk.

With a new media model that devalued content, no one had a very clear picture of the problems ahead. The future was further obscured by what seemed to be an astonishing reflorescence of the press, with tiny internet startups throwing lavish parties in Manhattan bistros and paying writers Condé Nast-level fees. The internet was the messiah, everything was great—until the IT bubble burst and media giants like TimeWarner stopped throwing money at a platform they didn’t understand. So now who was going to pay?

For the next decade, the media couldn’t decide which slogan of the moment carried more weight—“content is king” or “information wants to be free.” Sure, you can give away “information,” but someone has to find some way to cover expenses, and yet no one had figured out how to make internet advertising work. Maybe you really could charge for content. Of course you could—The New Yorker had done it for decades.

Even if you bring your own glass to a lemonade stand, there is no 8-year-old entrepreneur who is not going to charge you for his product. Why didn’t media grandees get it? When they saw their ad-based business model collapse, why didn’t they do the logical thing and raise the price on consumers? Sure, they’d lose some readers and have to cut some staff and departments, but they’d have established a fundamental defense of the product, the industry, and the institution itself—news is worth paying for.

As the old Chinese saying has it, the first generation builds the business, the second generation expands it, and the third spends it all on Italian shoes, houses in the Hamptons, and divorces. For the most part, the people inheriting these media properties didn’t know what they were doing. It took The New York Times more than a decade to settle on billing consumers for its product—after giving it away, charging for it, giving it away again, then billing for “premium content,” etc. By then, it was too late. Entire papers went under, and even at places that survived, the costliest enterprises, like foreign bureaus and investigative teams, were cut. An entire generation’s worth of expertise, experience, and journalistic ethics evaporated into thin air.

In January, Bannon told the Times that the press doesn’t “understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” But the Times had already acknowledged its blunder in a letter to its readers after the election. However, neither Bannon nor the Times seemed to grasp the logistical reasons for the failure—it wasn’t because the paper of record slants left, or because it was too caught up in its own narrative. It’s in large part because it had long ago cut the regional bureaus in the South, the Midwest, etc., that would’ve forced reporters to speak to Americans outside the urban bubble and thereby explain to readers what the world looks like once you wander off the F train.

By the time two planes brought down the World Trade Center towers in September of 2001, everyone in the industry knew the media was in big trouble. The Iraq War partially hid and then later amplified that fact. The media spent millions it didn’t have for coverage it gave away free of a war that the press first supported and then turned against. If journalists prided themselves on their courageous about-faces, to much of their audience it further discredited a press whose main brief is not to advocate for or against, but to report facts.

This is the media environment that Barack Obama walked into—where Post columnist David Ignatius was no more important a media figure than Zach Galifianakis, on whose precious and often funny internet show Between Two Ferns the president marketed the Affordable Care Act. I suspect the Obama White House was a little sad that the press we’d all grown up with was basically dead. As Ben Rhodes, former national security adviser for strategic communications, told The New York Times Magazine, “I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote. But that’s impossible.”

He was right. What was once known as the prestige media became indistinguishable from the other stuff that Facebook gives away. Was it The New York Times or BuzzFeed that published that video about cats terrorized by cucumbers? Or was it Fake News because, in fact, cats aren’t scared of vegetables? It doesn’t matter where it came from, because there is no longer any hierarchy in the press. The media, as Thomas Friedman might say, is flat.

Obama didn’t kill journalism, but he took advantage of it in its weakness, because he knew the press would do anything to feel relevant again. All those 27-year-olds at the Times, the Washington Post and others hired as bloggers—“who literally know nothing,” as Rhodes told the Times Magazine—when the foreign and national bureaus were closed, they didn’t know it wasn’t OK to be a journalist and a political operative at the same time. They thought it made them more valuable, even patriotic, to put themselves in the service of a historic presidency. And they’d replaced for pennies on the dollar all the adults who could have taught them otherwise.

That’s the raw material out of which the Obama administration built its echo chamber, the purpose of which was to drown out the few remaining vestiges of journalism in order to sell the president’s policies. And there really were real journalists still putting in the hours, still doing the work, but the echo chamber, a relentless, frenzied chorus of incoherent and nearly illiterate prose, shouted them down.

Yes, it would have been nice if the American public had a chance to discuss a policy of vital importance to our national security, like the Iran nuclear deal, but the press congratulated itself for silencing those who dissented from Obama’s signature foreign-policy initiative. These weren’t simply critics or opponents of the White House, they weren’t just wrong; no, they were warmongers, beholden to donors and moneyed interests and lobbies, they were dual loyalists.

But it was all OK for the press to humiliate and threaten Obama’s opponents in accordance with the talking points provided by Obama administration officials—they were helping the president prevent another senseless war. That’s for history to decide. What everyone saw at the time was that the press had put itself in the service of executive power. This was no longer simply tilting left, rather, it was turning an American political institution against the American public.

Now with Trump in the White House, commentators on the right are critical of those angry with the press for calling out Trump on the same stuff that Obama got away with. Let’s be above it, they argue. Just because Obama did it doesn’t make it OK for Trump to do it. Fine, obviously, call out Trump—but this isn’t about playing gotcha. It’s about a self-aggrandizing press corps gaslighting the electorate. The public is astonished and appalled that the media has now returned after an eight-year absence to arrogate to itself the role of conscience of the nation.

It’s not working out very well.

Consider the Washington Post, whose new motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” which presumably was OK’d by owner Jeff Bezos, the man who closed virtually every independent bookstore in America. Here’s a recent story about riots in Sweden:

Just two days after President Trump provoked widespread consternation by seeming to imply, incorrectly, that immigrants had perpetrated a recent spate of violence in Sweden, riots broke out in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in the northern suburbs of the country’s capital, Stockholm.

You’ve probably never seen the phrase “seeming to imply” in the lede of a story in a major American newspaper before—a news story. So did Trump imply, or seem to imply? How are readers supposed to parse “incorrectly” if the story is about the reality of riots in a place where Trump “seemingly” “implied” there was violence? So what’s the point—that Trump is a racist? Or that Trump can see the future?

The press at present is incapable of reconstituting itself because it lacks the muscle memory to do so. Look at the poor New Yorker. During the eight years of the Obama administration, it was best known not for reported stories, but for providing a rostrum for a man to address the class that revered him as a Caesar. Now that the magazine is cut off from the power that made it relevant, is it any wonder that when it surveys the post-Obama landscape it looks like Rome is burning—or is that the Reichstag in flames?

The Russia story is evidence that top reporters are are still feeding from the same trough—political operatives, intelligence agencies, etc.—because they don’t know how to do anything else, and their editors don’t dare let the competition get out ahead. Why would the Post, for instance, let the Times carve out a bigger market share of the anti-Trump resistance? And what’s the alternative? Report the story honestly? Don’t publish questionably sourced innuendo as news?

And still, you ask, how could the Russia story be nonsense? All the major media outlets are on it. Better to cover yourself—maybe it’s true, because the press can’t really be this inept and corrupt, so there’s got to be something to it.

I say this not only out of respect for a late colleague, but in the hope that journalism may once again merit the trust of the American public. Wayne Barrett had this file for 40 years, and if neither he nor the reporters he trained got this story, it’s not a story.

Is a Trump-Putin Detente Dead?

February 21, 2017

Is a Trump-Putin Detente Dead? Rasmussen Reports, Patrick J. Buchanan, February 21, 2017

(Please see also, Highly Classified National Security Information Must Not be Leaked. — DM)

America’s elites still praise FDR for partnering with one of the great mass murderers of human history, Stalin, to defeat Hitler. They still applaud Nixon for going to China to achieve a rapprochement with the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century, Mao Zedong.

Yet Trump is not to be allowed to achieve a partnership with Putin, whose great crime was a bloodless retrieval of a Crimea that had belonged to Russia since the 18th century.

The anti-Putin paranoia here is astonishing.

***************************

Among the reasons Donald Trump is president is that he read the nation and the world better than his rivals.

He saw the surging power of American nationalism at home, and of ethnonationalism in Europe. And he embraced Brexit.

While our bipartisan establishment worships diversity, Trump saw Middle America recoiling from the demographic change brought about by Third World invasions. And he promised to curb them.

While our corporatists burn incense at the shrine of the global economy, Trump went to visit the working-class casualties. And those forgotten Americans in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, responded.

And while Bush II and President Obama plunged us into Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Trump saw that his countrymen wanted to be rid of the endless wars, and start putting America first.

He offered a new foreign policy. Mitt Romney notwithstanding, said Trump, Putin’s Russia is not “our number one geopolitical foe.”

Moreover, that 67-year-old NATO alliance that commits us to go to war to defend two dozen nations, not one of whom contributes the same share of GDP as do we to national defense, is “obsolete.”

Many of these folks are freeloaders, said Trump. He hopes to work with Russia against our real enemies, al-Qaida and ISIS.

This was the agenda Americans voted for. But what raises doubt about whether Trump can follow through on his commitments is the size and virulence of the anti-Trump forces in this city.

Consider his plan to pursue a rapprochement with Russia such as Ike, JFK at American University, Nixon and Reagan all pursued in a Cold War with a far more menacing Soviet Empire.

America’s elites still praise FDR for partnering with one of the great mass murderers of human history, Stalin, to defeat Hitler. They still applaud Nixon for going to China to achieve a rapprochement with the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century, Mao Zedong.

Yet Trump is not to be allowed to achieve a partnership with Putin, whose great crime was a bloodless retrieval of a Crimea that had belonged to Russia since the 18th century.

The anti-Putin paranoia here is astonishing.

That he is a killer, a KGB thug, a murderer, is part of the daily rant of John McCain. At the Munich Security Conference this last weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham promised, “2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.” How’s that for statesmanship.

But how does a president negotiate a modus vivendi with a rival great power when the leaders of his own party are sabotaging him and his efforts?

As for the mainstream media, they appear bent upon the ruin of Trump, and the stick with which they mean to beat him to death is this narrative:

Trump is the Siberian Candidate, the creature of Putin and the Kremlin. His ties to the Russians are old and deep. It was to help Trump that Russia hacked the DNC and the computer of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, and saw to it WikiLeaks got the emails out to the American people during the campaign. Trump’s people secretly collaborated with Russian agents.

Believing Putin robbed Hillary Clinton of the presidency, Democrats are bent on revenge — on Putin and Trump.

And the epidemic of Russophobia makes it almost impossible to pursue normal relations. Indeed, in reaction to the constant attacks on them as poodles of Putin, the White House seems to be toughening up toward Russia.

Thus we see U.S. troops headed for Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, NATO troops being sent into the Baltic States, and new tough rhetoric from the White House about Russia having to restore Crimea to Ukraine. We read of Russian spy ships off the coast, Russian planes buzzing U.S. warships in the Black Sea, Russians deploying missiles outlawed by the arms control agreement of 1987.

An Ohio-class U.S. sub just test-fired four Trident missiles, which carry thermonuclear warheads, off the Pacific coast.

Any hope of cutting a deal for a truce in east Ukraine, a lifting of sanctions, and bringing Russia back into Europe seems to be fading.

Where Russians saw hope with Trump’s election, they are now apparently yielding to disillusionment and despair.

The question arises: If not toward better relations with Russia, where are we going with this bellicosity?

Russia is not going to give up Crimea. Not only would Putin not do it, the Russian people would abandon him if he did.

What then is the end goal of this bristling Beltway hostility to Putin and Russia, and the U.S.-NATO buildup in the Baltic and Black Sea regions? Is a Cold War II with Russia now an accepted and acceptable reality?

Where are the voices among Trump’s advisers who will tell him to hold firm against the Russophobic tide and work out a deal with the Russian president?

For a second cold war with Russia, its back up against a wall, may not end quite so happily as the first.

Highly Classified National Security Information Must Not be Leaked

February 20, 2017

Highly Classified National Security Information Must Not be Leaked, Dan Miller’s Blog, February 20, 2017

(The views expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Warsclerotic or its other editors. — DM)

Evidence of political corruption should be.

It has been obvious since the early Republican primaries that most media coverage of a Trump presidency would be adverse and presented out of context. Perhaps a recent editorial at The Week Magazine explains why, albeit inadvertently. Or maybe this cartoon better explains the media view:

Trump and Putin as seen by the lamebrain media

Trump and Putin as seen by the lamebrain media

According to The Week Magazineall leaks are equal. However, we approve of those which fit our politics and disapprove of those which don’t.

Live by the leak, die by the leak. When WikiLeaks was releasing a steady stream of embarrassing emails hacked from Democratic officials during the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and her supporters cried foul, and urged the press not to report their contents. Donald Trump applauded every new revelation, saying the leaks provided voters with important information, and gleefully invited the Russians to find and publish emails she had deleted. “Boy, that WikiLeaks has done a job on her, hasn’t it?” Trump exulted. Now that it’s Trump who is being tortured by leaks, he’s complaining they’re illegal and “un-American.” Democrats, meanwhile, are welcoming the torrent like a rainstorm after a long drought. (See Main Stories.) When it comes to leaks, everyone is a hypocrite. “Good” leaks are ones that damage our opponents. “Bad” leaks are those that hurt Our Side. [Emphasis added.]

But let’s set partisanship aside for a moment. Is it always in the public interest for government officials to leak, and for the media to publish leaked material? Crusading journalist Glenn Greenwald—who angered the Obama administration by publishing Edward Snowden’s trove of stolen NSA documents—argues in TheIntercept.com this week that all leaks exposing “wrong-doing” are good ones, regardless of the leaker’s motives. “Leaks are illegal and hated by those in power (and their followers),” Greenwald says, “precisely because political officials want to be able to lie to the public with impunity and without detection.” The implication of this argument, of course, is that governments, politicians, and organizations should not keep any secrets—that when people in power conceal documents, emails, or information that could embarrass them, they are by definition deceiving the public. Radical transparency certainly sounds noble—but I suspect it’s a standard no public official, or indeed most of us, could survive. It’s so much more convenient to have a double standard: Transparency for thee, but not for me.

I disagree. Leaks of unclassified materials demonstrating corruption of the political process by either party are necessary for an effectively functioning democracy. Leaks of highly classified national security information — particularly in the area of foreign policy — endanger our democracy, are crimes and the perpetrators should be dealt with accordingly. When the media sensationalize leaks of the latter type, they are complicit and must be criticized vigorously.

The press has long served as an objective fail-safe to protect the public from the powers-that-be. That objectivity is now absent and the media’s role in our democratic society is in jeopardy. Rather than self-reflect as to how they got off course, the press have opted to label the man who exposed this derailment as un-American.

What’s un-American is the belief that the press should be unaccountable for its actions. What’s un-American is the belief that any attempt to criticize the press should be viewed as heresy. What’s un-American is the belief that the press is akin to a golden calf that compels Americans, presidents included, to worship the press.

Two very different types of leaks

a. DNC and Podesta e-mails:

The DNC and Podesta e-mails were released as written and posted by DNC officials and Podesta for transmission on unsecured servers easily hacked by modestly competent teenage hackers. I have seen no suggestion that the e-mails were classified. The intelligence community opined that Russian agents had done the hacking, but offered no significant proof beyond that the methods used by the hacker(s) were comparable to those used by Russian hackers in the past.

They found no discrepancies between the original e-mails and those posted by WikiLeaks (which denied that Russia had been the source). The e-mail leaks damaged the Clinton campaign because they portrayed, accurately — and in their own words —  dishonest efforts of high-level DNC and Clinton campaign personnel to skew the Democrat primary process in Ms. Clinton’s favor. They did not involve American foreign policy until Obama — who had previously done nothing of significance to halt Russia’s hacking of highly classified information from our intelligence establishment beyond asking, “pretty please, stop” — decided that Russia must be punished for Hillary’s loss of the general election through sanctions and by the expulsion of thirty-five of its diplomats.

Russian president Vladimir Putin had been expected to respond in kind, with the expulsion of US diplomats from its territory.

However, he later said he would not “stoop” to “irresponsible diplomacy”, but rather attempt to repair relations once Donald Trump takes office.

Mr Trump praised the decision as “very smart.”

b. Flynn telephone conversations:

Neither transcripts nor audio recordings of the Flynn telephone conversations were released. Instead, conclusions of the leakers were released. According to House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes,

“I think there is a lot of innuendo out there that the intelligence agencies have a problem with Donald Trump. The rank and file people that are out doing jobs across the world — very difficult places — they don’t pay attention to what is going on in Washington,” the California representative told CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson.

“What we have is we do have people in the last administration, people who are burrowed in, perhaps all throughout the government, who clearly are leaking to the press,” Nunes added. “And it is against the law. Major laws have been broken. If you believe the Washington Post story that said there were nine people who said this, these are nine people who broke the law.” [Emphasis added.]

Nunes said the FBI and other intelligence agencies ought to investigate who has leaked information to the press because so few people in the administration knew these secrets, that it would have had to have been someone at the “highest levels of the Obama administration” who is an acting official until Trump replaces him or her.

Did the leaker(s) try to present the conversations honestly, or to damage President Trump’s efforts to deal with Russia in matters of foreign policy where American and Russian interests coincide? To disrupt America’s badly needed “reset” with Russia which seemed likely to succeed under President Trump after Clinton’s and Obama’s efforts had failed?

resetbutton

Remember the Obama – Romney debate when Romney characterized Russia as America’s greatest geopolitical threat and Obama responded that the cold war was over and that “the 1980’s are calling and want their foreign policy back”?

The position now asserted by the Democrats and the media seems rather like the position that Obama rejected. If the position(s) of the Democrats and the media are now correct and Russia is again our enemy, might it be due to actions which Obama took or failed to take over the past eight years?

It is unfortunate that there has been a resurgence of Democrat (and some Republican) Russophobia when Russia is reassessing her relationship with Iran and America.

On January 22, 2017, the Russian media outlet Pravda.ru published an analysis on Russia-Iran relations. According to the article’s author, Dmitri Nersesov, Iran is becoming a problem for Russian interests. Nersesov also added that Iran wants Russia to choose between Iran and Washington. “Iran wants Russia to recognize that Teheran holds the key to the regulation of the Syrian crisis. Should Russia decide that the real strategy is built on the cooperation between Moscow and Washington, rather than Moscow and Teheran; the Islamic Republic will be extremely disappointed,” Nersesov wrote. [Emphasis added.]

An American – Russian realignment in areas of mutual concern — which as suggested below had seemed to be progressing well until General Flynn ceased to be involved — would be good, not bad. We have many areas of mutual concern, and Iran is one of them. The war in Syria is another. When were Russians last directed to yell Death to America? Or to refer to America as the “Great Satan?”

c. General Flynn, Russia and Iran

General Flynn had, at President Trump’s request, been dealing with Russia concerning the future roles of Iran, Russia and America in the Syria debacle:

Overlaying US President Donald Trump’s extraordinary, hour-long skirmish with reporters Thursday, Feb. 16, was bitter frustration over the domestic obstacles locking him out from his top security and foreign policy goals. [Emphasis added.]

Even before his inauguration four weeks ago, he had arranged to reach those goals by means of an understanding with President Vladimir Putin for military and intelligence cooperation in Syria, both for the war on the Islamic State and for the removal of Iran and its Lebanese surrogate Hizballah from that country. [Emphasis added.]

But his antagonists, including elements of the US intelligence community, were turning his strategy into a blunderbuss for hitting him on the head, with the help of hostile media.

Thursday, in a highly unconventional meeting with the world media, he tried to hit back, and possibly save his strategy.

That won’t be easy. The exit of National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, the prime mover in the US-Russian détente, sent the Kremlin a negative signal. The Russians began unsheathing their claws when they began to suspect that the US president was being forced back from their understanding. The SSV 175 Viktor Leonov spy ship was ordered to move into position opposite Delaware on the East Coast of America; Su-24 warplanes buzzed the USS Porter destroyer in the Black Sea.

Before these events, Washington and Moscow wre moving briskly towards an understandingdebkafile’s intelligence sources disclose that the Kremlin had sent positive messages to the White House on their joint strategy in Syria, clarifying that Moscow was not locked in on Bashar Assad staying on as president. [Emphasis added.]

They also promised to table at the Geneva conference on Syria taking place later this month a demand for the all “foreign forces” to leave Syria. This would apply first and foremost to the pro-Iranian Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghan militias brought in by Tehran to fight for Assad under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers, as well as Hizballah. [Emphasis added.]

Deeply troubled by this prospect, Tehran sent Iran’s supreme commander in the Middle East, the Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, to Moscow this week to find out what was going on.

Flynn’s departure put the lid on this progress. Then came the damaging leak to the Wall Street Journal, that quoted an “intelligence official” as saying that his agencies hesitated to reveal to the president the “sources and methods” they use to collect information, due to “possible links between Trump associates and Russia.. Those links, he said “could potentially compromise the security of such classified information.”

A first-year student knows that this claim is nonsense, since no agency ever share its sources and methods with any outsider, however high-placed.

What the leak did reveal was that some Washington insiders were determined at all costs to torpedo the evolving understanding between the American and Russian presidents. The first scapegoat was the strategy the two were developing for working together in Syria. [Emphasis added.]

Defending his policy of warming relations with Moscow, Trump protested that “getting along with Russia is not a bad thing.” He even warned there would be a “nuclear holocaust like no other” if relations between the two superpowers were allowed to deteriorate further.

It is too soon to say whether his Russian policy is finally in shreds or can still be repaired. Trump indicated more than once in his press briefing that he would try and get the relations back on track.

Asked how he would react to Russia’s latest provocative moves, he said: “I’m not going to tell you anything about what responses I do. I don’t talk about military responses. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea,” he stressed.

At all events, his administration seems to be at a crossroads between whether to try and salvage the partnership with Russia for Syria, or treat it as a write-off. If the latter, then Trump must decide whether to send American troops to the war-torn country to achieve his goals, or revert to Barack Obama’s policy of military non-intervention in the conflict. [Emphasis added.]

Substantially more is generally involved in matters of foreign policy than is facially apparent or than government officials should discuss publicly, particularly while negotiations with foreign powers are underway. Leaks by held-over members of the intelligence community did much to reveal the opinions of the leakers but little to reveal what General Flynn had been doing, while upsetting the chances of better American – Russian relations in areas of mutual concern.

Conclusions — The Administrative State

The Federal Government has grown far too big for its britches, giving the unelected “administrative state” substantially more authority, and hence power, than is consistent with a properly functioning democracy. As they have been demonstrating in recent months, holdovers from one administration can succeed, at least partially, in paralyzing a new and democratically elected president. Holdovers with political appointee status can generally be fired. Few others who should be can be.

Getting rid of the obstructionist “civil servants” who have become our masters should rank very high on President Trump’s “to do” list and should be accomplished before it’s too late. The task may be difficult but is not impossible. Perhaps some particularly obnoxious Federal agencies (or departments within those agencies) can be relocated to places less congenial than Washington. Inner City Chicago comes to mind. So do otherwise pleasant cities in California, where housing prices are much higher than in the Washington, D.C. area. How many Federal employees faced with the choice of relocating or resigning would choose the latter option?

There are likely other and probably better ways to get rid of the fatheads. President Trump’s administration should devise them.