Monday, January 16, 2017

Merkel and Trump

As we are bracing for impact, here's a question for Brave New Trumpworld: Philip Oltermann, 'Europe's fate is in our hands': Angela Merkel's defiant reply to Trump Guardian 01/16/2017

Does this mean if we don't like Merkel now we're Russian dupes? On the other hand, Merkel's Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics has done more than anything in memory to undermine the EU, spread nationalist hatred between EU countries instead of solidarity, and made it impossible for the EU do develop a common foreign policy. Oh, and Britain left altogether. But I hear that weakening the EU is something that Putin wants to do. So that means she's a Putin supporter, too, right? Except she's criticizing Trump for being pro-Putin, so does that mean Trump is really an anti-Putinist masquerading as a pro-Putinist?

It's going to be hard to adjust to the post-truth that goes with post-democracy.

But if our politicians and pundits can't get a little better at processing the complications in all this, every political position is going to spin off immediately into a exotic conspiracy theory. Herbert Hoover economics is a disaster because it's proven to be so since, oh, 1929 or so. Having a blowhard narcissist as President is also a bad idea, though we don't really have direct US experience with the scale of it we're about to experience. And the Rick Perry Principle still holds: Even a stopped clock is right once a day.

We're all going to be very confused if we go into "we've always been at war with Eastasia" mode everytime Trump broadcasts a brain fart over Twitter.

These two tweets refer to another dilemma for the far-right "Nationalist International" of far-right parties that view nationalists like Trump and Putin as models to emulate.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Keeping up with the multi-faceted positioning on the Russian hacking issue

The Russia issue right now reminds me all too much of the early years of Cold War 1.0, when militarized and simplistic views of the Soviet Union gained the upper hand. Even George Kennan, the realist credited with the "containment" doctrine, later criticized the actual implementation of the policy as being much too exclusively.

PBS Newshour's Political Wrap segment Friday, Shields and Brooks on Russian intrigue in American politics, Obama’s farewell 01/13/2017, Bobo refers to the far-right parties that ideologically align with Putinism - or should we call it Trumputinism now? - as "Marxism in reverse." Which makes no sense conceptually, but it's an example of how American images of post-Soviet Russia are still heavily shaped by Cold War ideas and experience.

Here are some notable recent analyses of the Russian-interference issue.

Gareth Porter, Mainstream Media’s Russian Bogeymen Consortium News 01/13/2016

Masha Gessen, Russia, Trump & Flawed Intelligence NYR Daily 01/09/2017

Sophia McClennen looks at the larger context of foreign interference in elections in The new American exceptionalism: How the Russian connection to the 2016 election signals the destruction of our nation’s ideals Salon 01/014/2017. This is an area where we need to be able to walk and talk at the same time. Yes, the US tries to interfere in political processes including elections in other countries. Despite formal diplomatic and legal requirements, it's part of how statecraft is practiced. And part of the game on all sides is to try to have Our Side get away with it while preventing the Other Side from doing it. This context is important, even beyond the US-Russia context. McClennen embeds this tweet:

The Insanity of a New Cold War: A Top Russian Scholar Sounds the Alarm Truthdig 01/13/2017

David Ignatius' interview is worth hearing, What we still don’t know after a week dominated by Russia questions 01/13/2017:

Timothy Snyder speculated in April of 2016 on Putin's likely view of Trump (Trump’s Putin Fantasy NYR Daily 04/19/2016):

Trump correctly says that Putin respects strength. But of course Putin prefers weakness, which is what Trump offers. As Putin understands perfectly well, the president of the United States has standing in Russia, and enjoys far superior power to the president of Russia, only insofar as he or she mobilizes the moral and political resources of a rule-of-law state. It is precisely Trump’s pose of strength that reveals his crucial vulnerability. As anyone familiar with Russian politics understands, an American president who shuns alliances with fellow democracies, praises dictators, and prefers “deals” to the rule of law would be a very easy mark in Moscow. It is unclear how much money Trump has, but it is not enough to matter in Russia. If he keeps up his pose as the tough billionaire, he will be flattered by the Russian media, scorned by those who matter in Russia, and then easily crushed by men far richer and smarter than he. ...

The Russian expectation is that a Trump victory would be ruinous for American power, and that such power as remains will be deployed to support Russian interests. Trump’s fantasy friendship with Putin is one more reason to expect that a Trump victory would also be disastrous for American values and institutions. Putin can be expected, if the two men actually meet as presidents, to flatter Trump’s vanity and urge him onward toward a full assault on the Constitution. Russia is in a downward spiral of its own; what Americans must consider now is a weak presidential candidate who wants to follow Putin’s charm where it leads, which most likely means straight to the bottom.
Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed, Trump adviser had five calls with Russian envoy on day of sanctions - sources Reuters/MSN News 01/13/2017:

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia's ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow's interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The calls occurred between the time the Russian embassy was told about U.S. sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals, said the sources. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing internal U.S. government deliberations about the issue.
This claim is far more specific, verifiable and explainable that the Russia-hacks-DLC-gets-documents-toWikileaks-and-thereby-tilts-the-election-to-Trump story. The evidence for the hacking claims that the intelligence community thinks it's safe to put into the public record is limited by the concern of protecting "sources and methods." In the case Flynn's calls to the Russian Embassy, whether he made the calls or not should be easy for the intelligence agencies to verify even from standard phone records. It's a highly questionable thing for a senior official of a new Administration to be doing without coordination with the current US government. It was shady thing to do no matter what the content of the conversation was, and especially at that particular time.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The current politics of Russia-bashing

Max Sawicky writes about the current politics of US-Russian relations, including the election-interference issue, in Russia to Our Right The Baffler 01/11/2017. He focuses in particular on Russia's ideological and other support for rightwing groups in Europe and the US:

It’s tempting but simplistic to see Russian leaders as a fairly narrow species of nationalist interlopers in U.S. domestic politics. More to the point, they are allied with germinating, reactionary forces internationally, if only lately inside the United States.

Right-wing movements in France, Great Britain, Hungary, and elsewhere do not lack domestic political support, and there is no reason to think they would not exist without Russian backing. In the same vein, Trump’s victory here is owed first and foremost to the Republican Party and its sponsors, to all the usual suspects we have been observing with revulsion for decades. In the context of domestic U.S. politics, Putin is not the dog; he’s the tail. ...

The truth of a Russian alliance with rightists does not appear to be controversial, but it suffers from a lack of deserved attention. These movements, need we be reminded, are viciously, violently racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and homophobic. Similar groups run amok in Russia itself with the apparent indulgence of the authorities. The Trump campaign has brought like-minded creatures out from under the rocks of the U.S. right.
The invaluable Andrew Bacevich reminds us of what the old Cold War was like as a way of cautioning everyone about blundering or charging into a escalating New Cold War (How We Got Here TomDispatch 01/08/2017).

In his introductory note, Tom Engelhardt writes:

It’s easy to forget just how scary the “good times” once were. I’m talking about the 1950s, that Edenic, Father-Knows-Best era that Donald Trump now yearns so deeply to bring back in order to “make America great again.” Compared to the apocalyptic fears of those years, present American ones would seem punk indeed, if it weren’t for the way our 24/7 media blow them out of all proportion. I’m thinking, of course, mainly about terror attacks by various “lone wolves” that tend to dominate the news. You know, the disturbed individuals who pick up a butcher knife or assault rifle and head for the nearest mall or club or college campus, or point a deadly vehicle toward a crowd with mayhem and murder in mind. In 2016, in our increasingly securitized world (and language), such individuals have even gained their own official acronym: homegrown violent extremists, or HVEs. [internal hyperlinks omitted]
Bacevich in this article observes:

American elites might, of course, have assigned a far different, less celebratory meaning to the passing of the Cold War [than the End of History narrative]. They might have seen the outcome as a moment that called for regret, repentance, and making amends.

After all, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, or more broadly between what was then called the Free World and the Communist bloc, had yielded a host of baleful effects. An arms race between two superpowers had created monstrous nuclear arsenals and, on multiple occasions, brought the planet precariously close to Armageddon. Two singularly inglorious wars had claimed the lives of many tens of thousands of American soldiers and literally millions of Asians. One, on the Korean peninsula, had ended in an unsatisfactory draw; the other, in Southeast Asia, in catastrophic defeat. Proxy fights in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East killed so many more and laid waste to whole countries. Cold War obsessions led Washington to overthrow democratic governments, connive in assassination, make common cause with corrupt dictators, and turn a blind eye to genocidal violence. On the home front, hysteria compromised civil liberties and fostered a sprawling, intrusive, and unaccountable national security apparatus. Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries conspired to spend vast sums on weapons purchases that somehow never seemed adequate to the putative dangers at hand. [internal hyperlinks omitted]

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Russian hacking, Wednesday version

Here are some recent entries into the commentary and analysis of the Russian hacking and closely related issues.

Bob Kuttner writes in Trump, Putin, and the Pacifist Left The American Prospect 01/10/2017 about what he sees as well-established in the story and what deserves continuing skepticism. He also puts it into the context of US foreign policy toward Russia.

Philip Giraldi explains his own skepticism about the report in No Smoking Gun on Russia Hack American Conservative 01/11/2017.

Paul Pillar weighs in on the hacking and its implications in The Anti-Intelligence President-Elect The National Interest 07/06/2017:

Understanding when and how politicization can infect the work of intelligence agencies requires reflection about the mission and raison d’être of such agencies. For a wholly foreign intelligence organization such as the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency, objectivity is essential to the organization’s existence. If the handling of information were a matter of politically-driven case-building rather than objective analysis, then the task could be left to policy and speech-writing staffs, and we might as well dismiss all the intelligence analysts. Such an agency doesn’t even have another major mission to relate to, as, for example, the FBI does with its traditional role as a domestic law-enforcement organization. Politicization can set in when the policymakers—the bosses and customers of the intelligence officers—have a very strong policy objective driving a need for shaping information into a public case. The most salient example of that in recent times was the George W. Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq War. There is nothing remotely resembling that policy impulse that could be affecting the intelligence community’s current work on the Russian hacking.

Such politicization as is occurring on this issue is coming from Mr. Trump, and from others with a stake in downplaying the idea of Russian interference having affected the result of the U.S. election.
In a separate column, Russia Had Plenty to Work With: The Crisis in American Democracy The National Interest 07/06/2017, he observes why Russia might plausibly think the US is vulnerable to the kind of disinformation campaign the FBI, CIA and NSA has said they ran in 2016:

...this is a nation with a long history and strong tradition of representative democracy. But this tradition is visibly and seriously eroding. The trend is unfavorable. ...

Democracy scholar Thomas Carothers believes, somewhat more optimistically, that “as Trump and his team move to actual policymaking,” their support for democracy and human rights abroad “will prove less consistently negative than their initial signals might indicate.”

Carothers correctly identifies, however, the biggest negative of all: “Various problematic features of U.S. political life in recent years—the institutional gridlock, the ever-rising role of money in politics, and the frequent skirmishing over basic electoral rules and procedures—have already tarnished the United States’ image abroad. But the recent U.S. presidential election process damaged this image much more widely and deeply. Although this damage had many sources, numerous actions that Trump took during the campaign and since the election—from his vows to prosecute his main opponent to his baseless postelection assertions of massive electoral fraud—figure significantly in the dispiriting diminishment of America’s global political brand.” ...

Primary among the likely Russian motives, as suggested in the official government report on the Russian initiative, was “to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process”. Sure, what the Russians did is worthy of condemnation, but Americans ought to be most disturbed by the fact that there already were enough reasons to shake such faith that the Russians knew they had a vulnerable target. The recent election, with or without Russian interference, provided still more reasons.

Now we have Mother Jones introducting new questions in Al Vicensjan's The FBI Is Investigating Allegations That Russia Has Compromising Information on Trump 01/10/2017. Philip Giraldi also comments on that story inHow a Former CIA Officer Reads the Trump Dossier: Fact, fiction, or speculation? American Conservative 01/11/2017.

John Feffer, Donald Trump and the Russian Honeypot LobeLog Foreign Policy 01/11/2017:

I don’t think Russia directly tampered with the vote in November. Nor do I think that the revelations connected to the alleged Russian hacking made the difference in the election. Trump won for other reasons; Clinton lost for other reasons too. I’m not even sure that Putin wanted Trump elected. The Russian president probably just wanted to sow some confusion and discord in the U.S. political system.

Nor do I want to see a new Cold War develop between the United States and Russia. I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin or current Russian policies in Ukraine or Syria. But Moscow and Washington can certainly identify common interests such as reducing nuclear weapons, preserving the landmark agreement with Iran, and negotiating some new agreement with North Korea.

But the honeypot that Russia has used to trap Trump will have much more serious ramifications than a few email accounts hacked or disinformation spread around the Internet.
As he explains in this case honeypot has a different meaning that what we get in spy novels, "But it’s not a conventional version of the scheme in which an attractive woman makes eyes at a lonely intelligence officer. Rather, the 'raven' in this case is Vladimir Putin. And the dupe is Donald Trump."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017)

The name of Zygmunt Bauman has been coming up a lot in some recent reading I've been doing in history and political theory. Monday the news was that he had just passed away.

Matthew Gindin writes about him in Renowned Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman Heard Echoes of World War II in Trump The Forward 01/09/2017:

Bauman lived in England since 1971 after he was driven out of Poland by a purge engineered by the communist Polish secret police. Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Leeds, Bauman was one of the world’s most revered social theorists, publishing 57 books and well over a hundred articles. Most of these address common themes: modernity and postmodernity, consumerism, morality, and the sociology and political culture of fear.

Bauman is known for coining the term “liquid modernity” to describe the unstable and ever-changing nature of post-modern life, as well as many neologisms such as the “precariat” (the mass of people living precarious existences) and “allosemitism” (the ambivalent attitude towards Jews in many modern societies which cannot be summed up as either philo- or anti-Semitism).
This animated video is narrated by Baumann, though I don't know if he wrote the text. It does make use of his concept of the "precariate."

Why the world fears refugees (Narrated by Zygmunt Bauman) Al Jazeera English 10/13/2016:

He did a pamphlet commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the German Social Democratic Party (PDS) in 1863, 150 Years of German Social Democracy (2013): "The ADAV (General German Union of Workers) was founded [by Ferdinand Lassalle], an organization which became the prototype of all subsequent workers’ associations in the whole of Europe."

Most of Lassalle’s contemporaries expected industrialization to last forever, just as we expected consumerism to last until 2007. Thus, a stage would be reached where society is divided into two parts: Workers, and those who supervise and exploit them. So, given the general right to vote, it seemed obvious that the workers would gain power in the state.

But what to do with that power? The state had to compel the banks to subsidize manufacturing cooperatives. Instead of factories owned by one man, each worker was to be co-owner of a factory – a cooperative of manufacturers. This was meant to be an alternative to the emerging industrial society. Industry – yes, scientific progress – yes, modernization – yes, but not in the manner pursued by capital, devoid of political control.

These postulates need to be updated, but as far as the objective is concerned, Lassalle’s vision is a vision of a just society in which people live together in harmony and cooperation instead of competition and suspicion. This is on the agenda today just as it was 150 years ago.

Bauman critically describes these major aspects of the neoliberal worldview. He uses the French term imaginaire, which the philosopher Jacques Deleuze to describe "how we imagine the world order, what the conditions for our actions are, and for what values it is worth struggling or, if necessary, make a sacrifice." In the following, I think it's safe to say that "bourgeois imaginaire" can be used interchangeably with "neoliberalism."

The bourgeois imaginaire has triumphed.I shall now present its most conspicuous features. A panacea for all social ills [according to neoliberal claims] is an increase in output measures in terms of GDP – there are no other ways to improve mankind’s lot. But behind this assumption there lies a hidden, silent condition – one can increase the production of industrial commodities to no end, one can deliver more and more goods.

The second assumption is that human happiness consists in visits to the shops – all roads to happiness lead via shopping, in other words an increase in consumption. At the basis of this thinking lies the conviction that consumption can be increased ad infinitum and that one can forget about other simple, primitive pre-industrial methods of achieving happiness. And there were such methods.

The search for happiness is recorded in the results of our natural and cultural evolution, and is universal to all members of the human race. Maybe we forget the methods that were applied in the past, even 1,000 years ago, such as satisfaction from a job well done, an “instinct of workmanship” as Thorsten Veblen described it, a pleasure from working with other people, from friendly neighbours, from partnership, from a common march through life. All this we set aside. The shops provide us with all the pleasure.

The third assumption of [the] bourgeois imaginaire is something called meritocracy: Although people are and will always be unequal, inequality in itself is not an evil. It is a means with which to increase prosperity. However, “people get rich through honesty and work”. If you try hard and work hard, you will find plenty of room at the top. Poverty and impairment are a sentence imposed not by fate, but by indolence or negligence.
Bauman explains the consequences in practice for the SPD in having embraced the neoliberal worldview full-on during the red-green government headed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroder (1998–2005): "Since the adoption of Agenda 2010 by Chancellor Schröder, the SPD has lost one third of its members – a disastrous downturn in the party’s history. The SPD is in huge difficulties." But he describes how a similar problem affects other social-democratic parties in Europe and elsewhere.

Monday, January 09, 2017

The uncertainty of Trump

Two leading economists are focusing on the many uncertainties about the policies of the upcoming Trump Family Business Administration. Brad DeLong looks at some historical experiences to address the question of Who Will Donald Trump Turn Out To Be? 01/08/2017. His historical sketch includes St. Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger as California Governor, Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and another politician, uh, Benito Mussolini.

He notes of the Reagan example that St. Reagan came into office with contradictory pronouncements about policy. And some of his decision had what conservative like to call in other contexts unintended consequences:

Reagan did not want the Argentine generals to think that, because they had aided the U.S. in its fight against communists in central America, the U.S. would stand by and be substantively neutral when Argentina launched its war against Britain to conquer the Falkland Islands. Yet the Argentina generals did think that, and they had--from their contacts with some of the most senior Reagan administration officials--reason to think that that was the case.
DeLong's evaluation of the Governator is also good: "As California governor he tried to make Hollywood-style deals and failed comprehensively. The state government went on autopilot. He hung out in his smoking tent with his cigars. It was eight years of missed opportunities to address the challenges facing California."

He refers to one of St. Reagan's quirks. For all his fondness for armaments and the Star Wars boondoggle, "Reagan wanted world peace--and talked about how if there were an alien menace we would all quickly see how unimportant all the issues that caused diplomatic trouble were."

Lou Cannon wrote about that quirk in his still-important account of St. Reagan's Presidency, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (1991):

In Hollywood he became an avid science-fiction fan, absorbed with a favorite theme of the genre: the invasion from outer space that prompts earthlings to put aside nationalistic quarrels and band together against an alien invader. Reagan liked this idea so much that he tried it out on Gorbachev in their first meeting at Geneva in 1985, saying that he was certain the United States and the Soviet Union would cooperate if Earth were threatened by an invasion from outer space. Reagan's idea was not part of the script, and it startled his advisers. It may also have startled Gorbachev, who did not have at his fingertips the Marxist-Leninist position on the propriety of cooperating with the imperialists against an interplanetary invasion. In any event, Gorbachev changed the subject. Reagan thought this meant he had scored a point, and he proudly repeated what he had said to Gorbachev to a group of Maryland high school students after he returned to the United States. He also repeated it to his advisers, to mixed reactions. ...

... [Colin Powell] knew more than he had ever wanted to know about Reagan's preoccupation with what Powell called "the little green men," and he struggled diligently to keep interplanetary references out of Reagan's speeches. Powell was convinced that Reagan's unique proposal·to Gorbachev had been inspired by a 1951 science-fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. (p. 61; my emphasis)
Who says art has nothing to do with politics?

Joe Stiglitz also writes about Trumpian Uncertainty Project Syndicate 01/09/2017:

... the Republican/Trump agenda, with its tax cuts even more weighted toward the rich than the standard GOP recipe would imply, is based on the idea of trickle-down prosperity – a continuation of the Reagan era’s supply-side economics, which never actually worked. Fire-breathing rhetoric, or raving three a.m. tweets, may assuage the anger of those left behind by the Reagan revolution, at least for a while. But for how long? And what happens then?

Trump might like to repeal the ordinary laws of economics, as he goes about his version of voodoo economics. But he can’t.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Obama's legacy: President Trump's surveillance

Rick Perlstein has a timely reminder that Obama's surveillance policies leave a tool potentially enormously useful for domestic political shenanigans in the hands of the authoritarian President-elect Donald Trump, He’s Making a List New Republic 01/02/2017

“Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed the building of the greatest, most pervasive surveillance apparatus and security state that humanity has ever seen,” says Jon Stokes, co-founder of the news site Ars Technica and author of Inside the Machine. “Now we are about to hand over that entire apparatus to a paranoid, score-settling sociopath whose primary obsession seems to be with crushing his personal enemies.”
Perlstein makes this observation, relying on some psychological speculation based on what we know about both Nixon and Trump in the public record:

Nixon, unlike Trump, was an introspective man. In one particularly fascinating moment of self-reflection following his resignation, he described to a former aide the habits that had enabled him to rise to the top of Washington’s greasy pole. When you’re on your way, he explained, it pays to be crazy.

“In your own mind you have nothing to lose, so you take plenty of chances,” Nixon said. “It is then you understand, for the first time, that you have the advantage—because your competitors can’t risk what they have already.” That’s an insight that Trump put to good use during the Republican primaries, when he was willing to place high-stakes bets that his more experienced rivals were unwilling or unable to match.

But then you win, and your problems begin. “It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top,” Nixon confessed. “You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it, because it is a part of you and you need it as much as an arm and a leg. You continue to walk on the edge of the precipice, because over the years you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance.”

What Nixon was describing sounds like nothing so much as a seasoned heroin addict chasing the next high: It takes bigger and bigger doses to get there, until too much is not nearly enough. And a little thing like being elected the leader of the free world isn’t nearly enough to jolt a man like Nixon or Trump into rehab.
And he warns at the end, "Revenge is a narcotic, and Trump of all people will be in need of a regular, ongoing fix. Ordering his people to abuse the surveillance state to harass and destroy his enemies will offer the quickest and most satisfying kick he can get. The tragedy, as James Madison could have told us, is that the good stuff is now lying around everywhere, just waiting for the next aspiring dictator to cop."

Then there's this from Jenna McLaughlin Donald Trump's Pick for Spy Chief Took Hard Line on Snowden, Guantanamo, and Torture The Intercept 01/07/2017. That nominee for to be the next Director of National Intelligence is Dan Coats, former Republican Senator from Indiana and an Ambassador to Germany for the Cheney-Bush Administration. (Noah Bierman, Donald Trump to pick former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats to lead intelligence agencies, transition official says Los Angeles Times 01/05/2017) Bierman reports:

Coats, who served on the Senate intelligence committee, may also face a challenge in reconciling his own hawkish views on Russia with Trump’s far friendlier posture toward President Vladimir Putin,

Coats was banned, along with Arizona Sen. John McCain and a handful of other members of Congress and White House officials, from entering Russia in 2014 for backing U.S. sanctions against the country following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine. ...

Coats also spent years as a lobbyist between 2000 and 2010, working on behalf of a variety of clients in defense, pharmaceuticals, financial services and private equity, among other industries, according to public records. His clients included Lockheed Martin, a company Trump recently criticized for the high price of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Trump ran against Washington’s revolving-door lobbying culture, using “drain the swamp” as a prominent slogan. Yet he has chosen several former lobbyists for senior positions in his administration.

Trump and the Intelligence Community

On the Russian hacking issue and other things closely associated with it at the moment, I've maintained that everyone should try to reminder that it's important to walk and talk at the same time. We can be concerned about Russian interference in the election and also be alert to how outrage over that issue can be instrumentalized for nefarious purposes by the bad operators. We can insist on the need for skeptical evaluation and close reading of government and media claims about the Russian hacks and also recognize that some of the reactions from Trump and his Republican Party are also concerning.

On that latter consideration, Josh Marshall steps back to look at how Trump and his team seem to be viewing the US Intelligence Community more generally (Trump Prepping Ominous Moves to Gut US Intel Capacity TPM 01/04/2017):

There appear to be three separate forces in play here - which is in the ascendent is not clear.

First, Trump wants payback against an agency that he believes is his enemy. Period. He is undoubtedly encouraged in this by his closest advisors. Which brings us to number two ...

Second, Trump's chief foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn wants payback against the people who ended his career. Flynn was a career intelligence officer and one with a very strong reputation - working within specific and defined parameters. People who had worked with him earlier in his career said they couldn't recognize the person he became when he was placed in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was a disastrous manager, was taken in by numerous conspiracy theories and eventually had to be fired. Other generals got crosswise with the civilian appointees in the Obama administration. But they left with their reputations intact. Flynn was different. Flynn's personal beef is clearly the source of his animus against the DNI and the CIA.

Flynn is simply nuts and he wants to get even. This suggests Trump is going let him do just that.

Third, Trump and Flynn are not the first to push the 'CIA is missing the real story' line about the CIA. In fact, this is a debate which goes back some forty years. Trump has surrounded himself with a number of people who are either the intellectual descendants of the people who made this argument in the past or the people themselves.
And he elaborates on the history of the neocon "Team B" approach that eventually gave us the Iraq War.

Dawn Stover also notes in In denial: Trump on both climate and intelligence Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 12/16/2016 that Trump's expressed skepticism on intelligence claims about Russian hacking may be something other than a sign of careful reflection and skeptical thought:

When a president doesn’t trust the intelligence community, and relies instead on his own judgment and that of confidants who lack intelligence expertise—or are compromised by lucrative, personal ties to the Kremlin—he can cause huge problems for both foreign relations and the American people.

The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, for example, might have been avoided if President George W. Bush had paid more attention to an August 2001 presidential briefing warning that Al Qaeda was preparing to strike the United States. Afterward, Bush chose to believe that Saddam Hussein—rather than Osama bin Laden—was behind the attacks, and that the CIA had been fooled, despite protestations from intelligence officials.

In the case of the Russian election hacking, Americans may never know whether it affected the outcome of the election. But we do know that Putin has powerful friends within Trump’s inner circle, and that Trump’s businesses have significant financial connections to Russia. If a President Trump remains unwilling to believe intelligence about Russia, or disinterested in hearing it, that creates a huge blind spot surrounding one of America’s most powerful adversaries. And if one of the unnamed officials quoted in the NBC News report is correct, Putin’s goals were not only to carry out a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton, but also to convince America’s allies that they can no longer depend on the United States “to be a credible global leader.”

Intelligence denial and climate denial are dangerous for the United States’ international standing and ultimately for the security of the whole planet. If Trump doesn’t believe a solid scientific consensus, or a firm assessment by the US intelligence community, what other information will he choose to disbelieve in the future?

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Friday's public release on the Russian hacking issue

The US Intelligence Community released a new public statement about the Russian hacking during the 2016 election with the impressively ponderous title, Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution; the link is to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) website.

It will come as no surprise that it's carefully worded and lacking in voluminous backup.

In fact, the report proper consists of only five pages of text in a 25-page document. There are three pages of general introductory material and a two-page summary at the start. Seven pages in an appendix reproduce a 2012 report about RT/Russia Today and a one-page appendix defines some terms.

The fact that it's carefully worded means that it's worth paying attention to what is said, what is not said and what is heavily implied but not said. This "Key Judgments" summary statement, appearing all in bold in the report, is obviously newsworthy:

Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
It strikes me that there's a lot of wiggle-room in those two paragraphs. It particularly strikes me that the wording walks right up to saying that Russia tried to help Donald Trump get elected without actually saying so explicitly. That would be one entirely plausible conclusion to draw from those two paragraphs. But they don't say that directly.

On the partisan political point that the Clinton campaign and many of her supporters have been pushing that the Russian intervention threw the Electoral College to Trump, this report provides no such argument. It explicitly avoids the question, "We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion." (p. i)

Yes, I had to suppress a snicker on the last point, too. They are technically not supposed to, of course. But as we saw in the election, the FBI Director didn't seem to be above partisan calculations on how his public statements could influence the outcome of the Presidential vote.

Speaking of which, the report is explicit about representing the views of three intelligence agencies:

This report includes an analytic assessment drafted and coordinated among The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA), which draws on intelligence information collected and disseminated by those three agencies. It covers the motivation and scope of Moscow’s intentions regarding US elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion.
The Key Judgments section expands on the activities it covers (emphasis in bold in original:

  • We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.
  • Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.
  • Further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.

The careful wording that the Russian effort was "to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible" again stops short of saying explicitly that it was the Russian intent to throw the election to Trump, i.e., aiming to help someone's chances in an election is not precisely the same as trying to make sure they win. I'm not trying to split hairs. It's just that we have to presume that every word in such a report was carefully evaluated for the messages it would send to various parties.

The statement, "When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency," also suggests that the Russians involved by no means assumed that Trump was likely to win.

In writing this, I feel like I'm having an argument with an invisible Pollyanna. That's because a great deal of the public discussion over the Russian hacking issue has been amazingly simplistic and lacking in international and historical content. And often discussed as though this was some new outrage out of thin air, as though the US and Russia haven't perceived a major stake in each other's internal politics since at least the First World War.

The above considerations are compatible with an assumption that the Russian leadership including Putin may have preferred a Donald Trump as President because of his business connections in Russia and indications that he might pursue policies on Ukraine and Syria, both current priorities in Russian foreign policy, that would be more amenable to Russian preferences than those Hillary Clinton favored. (See page 1) Unless they had a super-secret and hyper-sophisticated independent polling operation in the US that was accurately predicting a Trump victory - and which has gone as yet undetected by US intelligence - the Russian leaders must have expected that Clinton was the more likely winner. And, of course, she did win the popular vote decisively.

Page 1 of the report also uses cagey wording:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.
The report describes a variety of actions aimed at influencing the election in some way: the infamous hacking; reporting and editorial claims via RT and Sputnik News; passive cyber-spying on state and local election systems (though "DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying. [emphasis in original]"; public statements by Putin contrasting Clinton's policies to Trump in a manner favorable to the latter; "pro-Kremlin" bloggers; trolls on social media like Twitter; statements in the Russian press and public comments by other senior Russian officials.

This bit from page 1 strikes me initially as a bit of a head-scratcher, "Putin has had many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder." The puzzling part is why the report calls out Berlusconi and Schröder by name. (And, BTW, doesn't the DNI's office have word-processing software with the o-umlaut "ö" on it?)

I haven't been into the weeds of this story enough to know if there is any new informational twists in the public disclosures in this passage: "We assess with high confidence that the [Russian military intelligence] GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries." (my emphasis in bold this time)

The Podesta e-mails, which were supposedly the object of a different hack than the DLC ones, are not explictly addressed.

The report lays great weight on RT's general role:

RT’s coverage of Secretary Clinton throughout the US presidential campaign was consistently negative and focused on her leaked e-mails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and ties to Islamic extremism. Some Russian officials echoed Russian lines for the influence campaign that Secretary Clinton’s election could lead to a war between the United States and Russia.
If the policies of the upcoming Trump Family Business Administration weren't so unpredictable at this point, I would read the emphasis on RT in this report as a possible buildup for significant news restrictions on Americans' access to RT reporting.

This is also an interesting and somewhat puzzling tidbit:

Russia’s effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election represented a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations aimed at US elections. We assess the 2016 influence campaign reflected the Kremlin’s recognition of the worldwide effects that mass disclosures of US Government and other private data — such as those conducted by WikiLeaks and others—have achieved in recent years, and their understanding of the value of orchestrating such disclosures to maximize the impact of compromising information.
Are we meant to make a distinction here between post-Soviet Russia and Soviet Russia? If so, aren't the FBI, CIA and NSA telling us that the leak of DNC documents to Wikileaks was a greater intervention in US politics than anything that occurred during the existence of the Soviet Union?

This definition is also notable: "Russia’s state-run propaganda machine [is] comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, and a network of quasi-government trolls."

The sensational element that has received by far the most attention was the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and of some individual Democratic leaders. And, despite how satisfying it might be from a partisan viewpoint to mock Trump as having been elected by Russian interference, that argument depends on assuming this sequence of events: (1) Russian hacking leads to (2) a leak to Wikileaks which (3) causes enough public dismay in four Rust Belt states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) to flip the Electoral College vote to Trump.

The first step, the Russian hacking, has been probably as well established in the public record as any such obscure operations are likely to be in the relatively short run. Like most people, I assume that as a given, though far from fully explained in the public record. The second step, the Russians providing key documents to Wikileaks, seems plausible and even likely, though not as well established in the public record as the first.

The third step, that the Wikileaks revelations were decisive in the election outcome in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin has not been proved and, so far as I can see, virtually impossible to prove or even argue that it's plausible, despite some energetic efforts by Hillary partisans to do so.

All of this argues for several obvious things: better US cyber-security; more, better and more critical reporting by the US corporate (and other) press on this complex of issues on an ongoing basis; and, taking full account of this issue complex in the larger field of US-Russia relations.

Hopefully, everyone can agree on the first and presumably this will be an ongoing, evolving effort indefinitely. The third will hopefully take place; it's hard to imagine that an un-provable claim of Russian throwing the election to Trump would lead to total non-cooperation on all other issues, nor would it be desirable - even setting aside the improbability of a Trump Family Business Administration wanting to do so.

The possibility of the US corporate press drastically improving its critical coverage of these issues will probably occur just after the Second Coming of Christ.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Russian hacking., the US and regime change

Owen Jones provides some useful, brief real-world history of American regime-change operations in Americans can spot election meddling because they’ve been doing it for years Guardian 01/05/2017:

... while Americans feel justifiably angry at alleged interference with their political process, they have also been handed a mirror, and the reflection should disturb them.

For the US is a world leader in the field of intervening in the internal affairs of other countries. The alleged interference is far more extensive than hacking into emails belonging to unfavoured political parties. According to research by political scientist Dov Levin, the US and the USSR/Russia together intervened no less than 117 times in foreign elections between 1946 and 2000, or “one out of every nine competitive, national-level executive elections”.

Indeed, one cannot understand US-Russian relations today without acknowledging America’s role in the internal affairs of its defeated cold war foe. As Stephen Cohen puts it, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the approach of US advisers “was nothing less than missionary – a virtual crusade to transform post-communist Russia into some facsimile of the American democratic and capitalist system”.
And this is a particular dilemma for members of the public trying realistically to understand the situation when the allegations involve intelligence detection of computer hacks for which the information has not been made public so that independent analysts can sufficiently examine them.

Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel keeps on trying, though. In Russia Hacked the DNC, But What, Specifically, Did GRU Do? 01/04/2016, her analysis provides a good example of why this doesn't easily boil down to a simple slogan:

One thing a lot of people don’t realize about the Russian hack attribution is there’s some slippage in the argument.

There are two groups in question: APT 29, which has been publicly associated with FSB, and APT 28, which has been publicly associated with GRU. As I laid out here, those two groups must be kept separate, because the story is that these two groups did different things: FSB hung around DNC’s servers for months and stole a lot of information, but never leaked it. That’s the kind of stuff intelligence services do all the time, including our own. Our government has no reason to make a case against that — which is unwanted but nevertheless normal espionage — because they do it too, such as when, in 2012, they stole communications between then Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and his closest allies.

GRU, by contrast, was believed to have been in DNC’s servers briefly — and John Podesta’s Gmail account even more briefly — but to have, in that time, stolen the documents that ultimately made their way to Wikileaks. That’s the action that was deemed newly beyond the pale (even if the US has probably had documents leaked to Wikileaks itself).

In a sense, then, only the APT 28 attribution matters, because that’s the entity that is believed to have been involved in hacking and leaking; that’s the entity believed to have done things that might have affected the outcome of the election.

But people have long either intentionally or unknowingly conflated the two, claiming that “Russia” hacked the DNC. If FSB hacked the DNC, the claim is true, but that doesn’t prove that Russia is behind the tampering in the election, because unless you prove that GRU is APT 28, then the stuff you’re bugged about hasn’t been properly attributed.

I’ve come to distrust the claims of anyone who has paid close attention to this that doesn’t assiduously maintain the distinction between the APT 29 and APT 28 hacks.
She concluydes this particular post, "None of this is definitive. None of it changes my inclination that Russia probably is behind the APT 28 hack of the DNC (and, even more convincingly, behind the hack of John Podesta). But these are some details that deserve more attention amid the claims that all the case against GRU (as distinct from Russia) is rock solid."

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Caution can be a virtue: Russian hacking and Trump foreign policy edition

Paul Pillar calls attention to the fact that we really have surprisingly little to go on in anticipating what the actual foreign policy of the Trump Family Business Administration is likely to be (Winning May Be the Only Thing for Trump, But Not For the U.S. The National Interest 01/03/2017):

Despite the earnest and usually sincere efforts by many commentators to discern pattern, direction, and purpose amid Donald Trump’s tweets and other utterances, the dominant picture is still one of inconsistencies, contradictions, slogans, and lack of a record. We are, late in the transition period, still mostly flying blind regarding the actual future foreign policy of this new presidency. We have little idea of what Trump really cares about in the substance of U.S. foreign policy, as distinct from rhetoric that has worked in a campaign and that helps in his effort to portray himself as a populist.
Citing this piece by Mark Katz, Can Putin and Trump Succeed at Improving Russian-American Relations? LobeLog Foreign Policy 12/31/2016, Pillar does describe a basic dilemma for Trump in dealing with Russia. On the one had, the two countries have common interests and there are good, practical reasons to cooperate on them. But Trump has also relied so heavily on his pro-wrestling tough guy image that he takes a risk being seeing as too compliant to Putin: "He has to be seen instead as having wrung concessions from Putin, and preferably as having gotten the better of him. Katz emphasizes that Trump especially must be seen doing so in the eyes of a domestic audience that includes hawkish, anti-Russian Congressional Republicans. Trump has the added baggage of the Russian hacking and interference in the U.S. election; any favorable move he makes toward Putin risks being interpreted as payback for election favors."

Pillar goes on to explain the risks of Trump approaching international negotiations as a win-loss zero-sum game in dealing with China and Iran.

And he makes a useful observation about not assuming that skills from the business world transfer easily to the Presidency:

Notwithstanding Trump’s trumpeting of his skills as a deal-maker, and notwithstanding all that has been said and written about the “transactional” approach this businessman is likely to take toward foreign policy, a man with his mindset is not about to operate in his new job the way he did in his old one. As head of a privately-owned business, profits and losses could be kept private—and with his refusal to make his tax returns public, they are largely staying that way. The public side of the business could be limited to his promotion of himself and his brand, with bragging about having the most luxurious buildings or the best golf courses. Now the game has changed for him. The public perception of gains and losses is different. If Trump really were to approach foreign relations in a pragmatic, businesslike way, that in general would be good for U.S. interests. But probably his need to be seen to “win” will get in the way. When winning is the only thing for the chief executive, that is not so good for the country.
Katz states the dilemma posed by the Russian hacking issue this way:

Since not just the outgoing Obama Administration, but also the U.S. Intelligence Community leadership, has declared that Russia intervened in the 2016 American presidential elections in order to hurt Clinton and help him, any concession by Trump to Putin risks being seen as payback to Russia for this help. Trump can rail all he likes that the Russians did not interfere in the elections, that he wasn’t aware of it, or that it somehow doesn’t matter anyway, but doing so will only increase concerns about his relationship to Moscow.
I'm glad to see him discussing this in terms of the narrative that has been established rather than the supposed certainty of the claims.

Because caution and careful reading of the hacking claims is still very much in order. Marcy Wheeler is continuing her able work at doing just that, as for instance in A Deep Dive on the Obama Response to Russian DNC Hack (and Theft and Harassment) Emptywheel 01/01/2017.

Democrats and journalists would also do well be hold back on dismissing any skepticism about the Russian hacking story as the result of someone being a Russian dupe.

The Nation presents a couple of recent article advising caution. One is James Carden's Is Skepticism Treason? 01/03/2017. Another is by Stephen Cohen, who writes:

Today’s hysteria, suffused with not a little neo-McCarthyism and a witch-hunt- like search for “Putin’s friends” in the US political establishment (first and foremost Trump himself and his nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson), are making any rational, fact-based discourse nearly impossible. Public discussion is urgently needed on NATO’s buildup on Russia’s western borders and on the civil/proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria, and more generally whether or not a new, less confrontational US policy toward Russia is needed. With the New York Times and Washington Post, and their echo chambers on cable TV networks, labeling anyone who rethinks US-Russia policy a “Trump apologist” and “Putin apologist,” civil discourse so vital to democratic resolutions, and to US national security, has become nearly impossible.
One has to wonder how long it will be before the Trump Family Business Administration will be making intelligence claims to justify some reckless foreign policy move and the Democrats will justify their inaction or support this time around by saying we can't dare impugn the omniscience of our Intelligence Agencies.

Still, the Russian hacking narrative will be a factor in US-Russia relations, as Katz observes in his conclusion:

Yet even if Putin is willing to make concessions, Trump cannot make a deal with him just on his own. Other governments (especially those whose countries are the subject of any Russian-American negotiation), the U.S. Congress, and Western public opinion will all seek to constrain Trump from conceding too much and to point out any instance when they see him allowing Putin to concede too little. In short: Russian interference in the recent presidential elections, and Trump’s effort to dismiss concerns about it, will only serve to increase the already considerable obstacles to improving Russian-American relations.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

US policy in the age of the "soft coup" in Latin America

In the grand scheme of things, it's hard not to think that removing elected governments by a "soft coup" like those in Paraguay in 2013 and in Brazil 2016 is preferable to the military brand of coup, of which Brazil 1964, Chile 1973 and Argentina 1976 are some of the more dramatic recent examples.

Honduras 2009 is sometimes cited as an example of the "soft coup." But it took the form of a military coup, though civilian government was quickly restored. And even obvious military coups also have a significant civilian political component. The Argentine coup of 1976 is also referred to commonly as a civilian-military coup. Just as the 1955 Argentine coup that styled itself the Revolución Libertadora involved substantial involvement at all stages from the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and the Socialist and Communist Parties.

And even the famous nonviolent "regime change" operation promoted by the CIA in Iran and 1953 and Guatemala in 1954 had long-range effects that call into serious question the judgment of the Eisenhower Administration promoting those coups against what in retrospect were, at worst, mildly annoying regimes for Washington. The quick-and-easy coup in Honduras has left an ugly legacy of social violence that continues over five years later. (Thelma Mejía, Journalism in Honduras Trapped in Violence Inter Press Service 11/28/2016)Latin America in 2016: The Resurgence of the Right Continues The Real News 12/31/2016:

Latin America in 2016: The Resurgence of the Right Continues (2/2)

Emire Sader describes in Macri, Temer y Peña Nieto, huérfanos de Clinton Página/12 25.11.2016 the Obama-Clinton policy in effect in Latin America. Despite the pragmatic opening to Cuba, the Obama Administration's policy toward Latin America has been fundamentally conservative. Conservative in the sense of supporting conservative government's with less than enthusiastic commitments to democracy over democratic governments committed to progressive economic policies instead of the neoliberalism demanded by the Washington Consensus.

The Obama Administration supported the military coup that ousted Honduras' elected government in 2011 and the "soft coup" of 2013 in Paraguay, which was down by means of a cynically politicized impeachment of President Fernando Lugo, a supporter of liberation theology who was the candidate of the center-right Liberal Party. The hard right Colorado Party had not lost a national election since 1947, a period that included the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner during 1954–89.

Argentina elected Mauricio Macri President in 2015. He ran at the head of an electoral alliance called Cambiemos, which primarily consisted of Macri's own PRO party and the UCR, the latter party commonly referred to as "the radicals," although they have been a conservative oligarchic party for decades, arguably since 1945 and certainly since 1955.

In 2016, Dilma Rousseff was ousted from the Presidency by an utterly cynical impeachment with no basis that could be considered legitimate for a democracy. The new President, Michel Temer, isn't actually eligible to run for elected office in Brazil as part of his penalty on a corruption conviction. The "soft coup" impeachment against Dilma makes the frivolous impeachment of Bill Clinton by a rabidly partisan Republican House in the US in the 1990s look like a model of legal and democratic conduct.

Sader writes that Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was responsible for:

la destrucción del gobierno de Manuel Zelaya en Honduras, después de que el último intento de golpe militar clásico en Venezuela, en 2002, hubiera fracasado. Ella y su gobierno apoyaron el golpe en contra de Fernando Lugo, que siguió el mismo guión, así como Hillary y Obama se callaron, de forma cómplice, frente al golpe en Brasil.

[the destruction of Manuel Zelaya's government in Honduras, after the previous attempt at a classic military coup in Venezuela in 2002 had failed. {The 2002 coup attempt was crassly supported by the Cheney-Bush Administrtion.} She and her go0vernment supported the {soft} coup against Fernando Lugo that followed the same guide, just as Hillary and Obama were silent in a complicit form in face of the {soft} coup in Brazil.]
Obama also made his first Presidential trip to Argentina in 2016 to show his support for the rightwing government of Mauricio Macri and "y anunciar una nueva época en las relaciones entre los dos gobiernos, felicitando al presidente argentino por los primeros pasos dados en dirección del viejo modelo neoliberal." ("to announce a new era in the relations between the two governments, congratualting the Argentine President for the first steps taken in the direction of the old neoliberal model.")

Sader sees the Obama-Clinton strategy in Latin America as being based around using the committed neoliberal government of Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico with the heavyweight Brazil-Argentina combination to impose the neoliberal model onto recalcitrant governments and electorates like those in Bolivia, Ecuador and (of course!) Venezuela. But he notes that the Trump Family Business Administration's likely hostility to Mexico in particular could complicate this plan. "México entró en pánico con la elección de Trump y sus amenazas. De nada sirvió la grotesta invitación que hizo Peña Nieto a que lo visitara, con efectos negativos para la imagen del ya desgastado presidente mexicano." ("Mexico went into a panic over the election of Trump and his threats. The grotesque invitation that Peña Nieto made for him to visit was useless, with negative effective for the already eroded image of the Mexican President.") He also notes that if Trump carries through on his campaign skepticism about corporate-deregulation trade treaties, it could complicate the plans of the current Argentine and Brazilian government to forge a relationship to the United States as subordinate as that of Mexico, in Sader's formulation.

Part of the plan presumably favored by the Obama Administration and being implemented by the Macri and Temer governments was a weakening of the South American trade alliance Mercosur. (Alberto Müller, Erosionar la integración Página/12 24.12.2016) Mercosur has functioned under the leadership of the so-called "Pink Tide" left-leaning governments of the last decade or so as an institution representing continental cooperation among South American government to establish independent regional power and influence against the neoliberal agenda. It has functioned in some of the spirit of the Patria Grande thinkers who encourage such regional cooperation against imperialist influences.

The Administration of current Argentine President Mauricio Macri, currently busily making friends with the American President-elect, has been giving Argentina and the world a textbook example of the damage neoliberal economic policies can do since taking office in December 2015. (GDP falls 3.8% in third quarter as investment remains elusive Buenos Aires Herald 12/23/2016; Leandro Renou, ‘The lower middle classes are heavily reducing consumption’ Buenos Aires Herald 12/23/2016)

His government is the kind that left nationalists in Argentina refer to as capayo (sepoy), referring to politicians and governments that are subservient to foreign interests, particularly economic interest. (It's not meant as a compliment!)

Even during the left-Peronist governments of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández (2003-2009), the conservative opposition kept up a steady stream of accusations of massive corruption and authoritarian tendencies, most of them with little or no real content.

The Macri regime is trying to use such accusation now against Cristina and her Partido Justicialista (PJ) and well as the social movements and groups that are a critical part of the kirchnerista base. The case of activist Milagro Sala has received attention from international human rights groups. "The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in October [2016] that her detention was arbitrary and ordered Argentina's government to free her immediately. However, the Macri administration considered the decision non-binding." (Argentina Human Rights Hero Milagro Sala Sentenced to 3 Years TeleSur 12/28/2016; Sala receives first sentence Buenos Aires Herald 12/30/2016)

See also:

Edgardo Mocca, El caso Milagro Sala Página/12 04.12.2016
Cruces en el massismo por Milagro Sala Página/12 02.01.2017
Luis Bruschtein, Milagros demonizados Página/12 02.01.2017

Macri's government is also going after former President Cristina Fernández on a corruption charge that looks contrived. And on another charge, with which I'm far more familiar and which is about as bogus as they come.

The courts have brought a formal indictment against her on the former charge. (In second push, CFK indicted for public works graft Buenos Aires Herald 12/30/2016)

The other charge is a revival of a case that former prosecutor Alberto Nisman tried to bring against her over her handling of the still-ongoing investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires. I blogged about this back in 2015 as the original case was unfolding. The case is ludicrous. Very short version: Nisman was accusing her of doing something that wasn't illegal and for which there is no good evidence she did and very substantial material in the public record to show she did not do it. Nisman himself died of a gunshot wound that by all publicly known indications was a suicide, although the official investigation is still open. But at the time of the likely suicide, his case against the then-President was rapidly coming apart publicly, which could have been a contributing cause of the suicide. (Nisman AMIA complaint against CFK re-opened Buenos Aires Herald 12/30/2016; A history of the judicial back and forth, almost two years in the making Buenos Aires Herald 12/30/2016)

Other articles on the Nisman charge include the following, some of which show signs of the many uses to which the AMIA case has been put, not least because it's a key part of the American claim that Iran has an advanced ability to project substantial terrorist action in the Western Hemisphere, although lots has changed in 24 years. The case itself has never been solved, though Argentina's official theory of the case is that Iran was behind it. And Cristina herself pursued that theory as President. She was aggressive as a Senator in pursuing the investigation into the attack. For background, see The Unsolved Terror Attack At The Center Of Argentina’s Political Crisis World Post 01/30/2015.

Argentine court rules ex-president may have covered up Iranian bombing of Jewish center Jewish Telegraph Agency 12/30/2016; this is actually a poor report on the charge
Argentine ex-president Kirchner faces new probe over bombing AFP/Yahoo! News ; the headline does not reflect the report and looks purely propagandistic. The article itself reports, "Four lower courts had thrown the case out on grounds there was no evidence a crime had been committed."
“Es el uso y abuso de los muertos de la AMIA” Página/12 30.12.2016
Excusaciones y recusaciones Página/12 11.11.2016

Aljazeera also features a sloppy report on Cristina's situation, taking the conservative government's highly politicized accusations of Macri's conservative government, Former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner faces court 01/01/2017. One of the people this report quotes is Marioano Obarrio, identified only as a "journalist." That's true. He's a journalist for La Nación, the rightwing government which has repeatedly over the decades supported military governments and has been the journalistic voice for the Argentine oligarchy since it was founded by former President Bartolomé Mitre in 1870. (Except for a period during Juan Perón's first government when the paper was seized by the government.

It's concerning to see Aljazeera presenting a report made with such credulity to rightwing charges that one would have to be very generous to describe as highly questionable. So far, they look downright frivolous.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Realism and US-Russia policy

Gilbert Doctorow of the American Committee for East West Accord looks at Henry Kissinger's views on Russian foreign policy in Trump and Revenge of the ‘Realists’ Consortium News 12/31/2016. He argues that despite his reputation as a scholar-statesman - and war criminal - Kissinger's basic view of Russian policy assumption in some ways is surprisingly simplistic:

... Kissinger’s thinking about Russian history is so clear one might imagine he knows what he is talking about. The question is of key importance because the Realist School is built upon the assumption that one can accurately appraise the strengths of all players and that one has a solid knowledge of the history and traditions of the players. In this it distinguishes itself from idealism, with its focus on universal values and disinterest in regional knowledge.

From Kissinger’s own academic career in studying European diplomacy in the Nineteenth Century, Russia should have been on his plate, given that the country was one of the three decisive players in the first half of the century (Holy Alliance) and one of the five or six decisive players in the second half of the century. However, that was manifestly not the case.

Kissinger is widely reputed to be a voracious reader. Yet, it is obvious that Russia has never and does not now figure among the topics he reads. In Diplomacy, for his analysis of Russia, he relied on the very dated Nineteenth Century classics of Russian history like Vasily Klyuchevsky that he read in translation during his graduate student days at Harvard.

Klyuchevsky is unquestionably a good starting point for students of Russian history. He was the father of the historiography that came down to Kissinger in the person of Michael Karpovich, the founder of Russian studies at Harvard. But his notion of Russia’s manifest destiny of borders moving out across the Eurasian land mass was part of a Liberal and anti-tsarist historiography. By today’s standards, reading Klyuchevsky has mainly curiosity value. To put the issue in terms closer to an American reader, it is as if Kissinger were using de Tocqueville as the key source for writing about contemporary America.
Doctorow also discusses the mixed nature of on Kissinger's positions on Russia. On the one hand, he places Kissinger "squarely among those responsible for getting us into the confrontation with Russia that reached its climax under Barack Obama." And, "beginning in the 1990s, Henry Kissinger modified his message of realism to accommodate the then-dominant American school of idealism, or values-based foreign policy."

But he also gives Kissinger credit for a more pragmatic, realistic view of Russia than that shared by neoconservatives and liberal hawks: "he is correctly perceived as a champion of the art of diplomacy, which is another word for compromise and deal-making. It is precisely diplomacy that has been sorely lacking in the U.S. government in recent decades. Under both Republican and Democratic presidents, ideology has held sway at the State Department and in the White House."

Doctorow also calls attention to this Spiegel interview, 'Do We Achieve World Order Through Chaos or Insight?' 11/13/2014, in which the former Secretary of State says:

SPIEGEL: So let's talk about a concrete example: How should the West react to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Do you fear this might mean that borders in the future are no longer incontrovertible?

Kissinger: Crimea is a symptom, not a cause. Furthermore, Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can't accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.

SPIEGEL: What was it then?

Kissinger: One has to ask one's self this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn't make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask one's self why did it happen?

SPIEGEL: What you're saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?

Kissinger: Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine's economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate.

SPIEGEL: It seems you have a lot of understanding for Putin. But isn't he doing exactly what you are warning of -- creating chaos in eastern Ukraine and threatening sovereignty?

Kissinger: Certainly. But Ukraine has always had a special significance for Russia. It was a mistake not to realize that.

SPIEGEL: Relations between the West and Russia are tenser now than they have been in decades. Should we be concerned about the prospects of a new Cold War?

Kissinger: There clearly is this danger, and we must not ignore it. I think a resumption of the Cold War would be a historic tragedy. If a conflict is avoidable, on a basis reflecting morality and security, one should try to avoid it.

SPIEGEL: But didn't the annexation of Crimea by Russia force the EU and US to react by imposing sanctions?

Kissinger: One, the West could not accept the annexation; some countermeasures were necessary. But nobody in the West has offered a concrete program to restore Crimea. Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That's a fact of life. So one could say we don't have to accept it, and we do not treat Crimea as a Russian territory under international law -- just as we continued to treat the Baltic states as independent throughout Soviet rule. [my emphasis in italics]
Doctorow also observes of Kissinger's 2001 book Does America Need a Foreign Policy?:

In his specific remarks on how America should conduct its foreign policy towards Russia, he urged moderation, continued readiness to assist the country with its transition to democracy and free markets, and attentiveness to Russia’s voice in international forums.

Note especially his comment on prospective NATO expansion into the Baltic States, which Kissinger believed in 2001 would be provocative, saying it would put NATO forces within 30 miles of St Petersburg, one of Russia’s largest population centers. He correctly foresaw that “Advancing the NATO integrated command this close to key centers of Russia might mortgage the possibilities of relating Russia to the emerging world order as a constructive member.”
Doctorow also describes what he calls "the soft underbelly of Realpolitik: realism can be only as useful as the expertise and judgment of its practitioner." Although that broad characterization could be made of any foreign policy approach, it's useful here in calling attention to the fact that the pragmatic calculations that the Realist school of foreign policy offers to provide can be highly misleading and even dysfunctional if the key information and assumptions are insufficiently grounded.

Eric Levitz takes a look at some of the anti-Russian hawkish sentiments among some foreign policy figures associated with the President-elect's incoming administration, Trump Allies Argue That Obama’s Sanctions on Russia Are Too Weak New York 12/30/2016:

The Heritage Foundation — which has played a central role in staffing Trump’s White House — argues that Obama’s sanctions are “too little, too late.” Is this the conservative think tank’s sly attempt to pressure Trump into adopting an even more hard-line stance against Russia?

Meanwhile, the man who was one mustache away from becoming Trump’s deputy secretary of State offered similar talking points on Fox News.

“I don’t think they will have much impact at all,” John Bolton said of the Obama administration’s sanctions on Friday. “The Russians have walked all over the Obama administration for eight years. It’s really been a pathetic performance. So what this last burst of activity has to do is hard to say. I do think it’s intended to try and box the Trump administration in. I think it will fail. This is simply an executive order. If President Trump decides to reverse it, it’s easy enough to do.”

Bolton went on to accuse the Obama administration of having “politicized” the process of intelligence gathering — a claim that’s belied by the president’s decision not to impose sanctions or release detailed intelligence reports until after Election Day. Nonetheless, Bolton suggested that Trump was correct to treat public intelligence reports with some skepticism.
Of course, it remains to be seen which of the major foreign policy factions in the incoming administration (neocons, America Firsters, Islamophobes) becomes the most significant.

International relations scholarship uses a term that doesn't seem to have become very common in the public discussions of Russian policy with neighboring states, "de facto states," to describe situations like South Ossetia in Georgia. Sergey Markedonov writes in De facto statehood in Eurasia: a political and security phenomenon Caucasus Survey 3:3 (2015):

... new internationally recognized states are not the only result of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Another major consequence was the appearance of new formations also declaring their sovereignty. Known variously as “unrecognized states”, “quasi/pseudo-states” or “breakaway republics”, they play a significant role in geopolitical rivalries, conflict resolution processes and post-Soviet nation-building development despite a lack of formal-juridical recognition. In this article, we use the academically and politically neutral term “de facto states” to describe them.

De facto statehood is not, however, a phenomenon or product exclusively associated with the Soviet (or, to include the former Yugoslavia, socialist) disintegrations. Entities emerging as a result of revolutions, various practices of national self-determination (which was post-factum called liberation), or foreign policy games, but which did not gain broad or even limited recognition, had existed long before 1991. Even some European countries, such as France (after the French Revolution), the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland, were not recognized for some period of time in the past. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the USSR existed for some time without international recognition (e.g. the USA recognized the “new realities in Eurasia” only in 1933). The People’s Republic of China had no representation in the United Nations (UN) from 1949 to 1971. China’s interests were represented by the Republic of China (Taiwan). The situation changed only after the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 (“Restoration of the Lawful Rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations”) on 25 October 1971.

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union’s disintegration produced an impressive list of entities that exist in reality but lack recognition by UN member countries. At present, there are six such entities: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic and the two alleged People’s Republics of Donbass (in south-eastern Ukraine). Two of these, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have received limited recognition by individual countries. [my emphasis]
Crimea does not count as a "de facto state" in the same sense as those entities, because Crimea has been integrated into the nation of Russia itself, despite the widespread lack of international recognition of that annexation.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Is the End of History finally over? And do we have a New Cold War?

"We do not have to talk about avoiding cold war. It is here already — at Moscow’s initiative. What we can do is to contain the damage, protect our allies, and try to prevent the cold war from becoming hot." - Michael Rywkin, Russia: An Adventure to Restore the Empire American Foreign Policy Interests 37:2 (2015)

"[P]ost-Cold War US relations with Russia and China have never been simple or smooth. They appeared tolerable but have been deteriorating for years. Moscow and Beijing never abandoned the 'inherent bad faith' model of the Cold War. They always suspected US motives and still do. Moscow and Beijing harshly criticized their recent United States ambassadors, Michael McFaul and Gary Locke respectively, something rare in diplomacy that indicates deep hostility and cannot be resolved by reset buttons." - Michael Roskin, The New Cold War Parameters 44:1 (2014)

New Cold War talk has been in the air the last couple of years, with the Obama Administration's latest sanctions against Russia in response to Russian hacking attacks - and probably in response to other undisclosed events - racheting up the talk during the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Family Business Administration.

Andrew Cockburn talks about this latest round in an article published before the new US sanctions were announced (The New Red Scare Harper's Dec 2016):

Despite some esoteric aspects, the so-called Russian hacks, as promoted by interested parties in politics and industry, are firmly in the tradition of Cold War threat inflation. Admittedly, practitioners had an easier task in [the 1960s]. The Cold War was at its height, America was deep in a bloody struggle against the communist foe in Vietnam, and Europe was divided by an Iron Curtain, behind which millions chafed under Soviet occupation.

Half a century later, the Soviet Union is long gone, along with the international communist movement it championed. Given that Russia’s defense budget is roughly one tenth of America’s, and that its military often cannot afford the latest weapons Russian manufacturers offer for export, resurrecting this old enemy might seem to pose a challenge to even the brightest minds in the Pentagon. Yet the Russian menace, we are informed, once again looms large. According to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Russia “has clear ambition to erode the principled international order” and poses “an existential threat to the United States” — a proclamation endorsed by a host of military eminences, including General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his vicechairman General Paul Selva, and NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander, General Philip Breedlove.

True, relations with Moscow have been disintegrating since the Bush Administration. Yet Russia achieved formal restoration to threat status only after Putin’s takeover of Crimea in February 2014 (which followed the forcible ejection, with U.S. encouragement, of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government just a few days earlier). Russia’s intervention in Syria, in the fall of 2015, turned the chill into a deep freeze. Still, the recent accusation that Putin has been working to destabilize our democratic system has taken matters to a whole new level, evoking the Red Scare of the 1950s. [my emphasis]
And, yes, the US military-industrial complex is real, as is it's much less formidable Russian counterpart. And still making money. And wanting to make even more:

There would seem to be one major difference between the fine art of threat inflation as practiced during the Cold War and the current approach. In the old days, taxpayers at least got quite a lot for their money, albeit at inflated prices: the 900 ships, the 15,000 planes, and so forth. Things are different today. The so-called global war on terror, though costing more than any American conflict apart from World War II, has been a comparatively lackadaisical affair. Iraq at its height absorbed one fifth the number of troops sent to Vietnam, while Air Force sorties ran at one eighth the earlier level. Though the weapons cost more and more, we produce fewer and fewer of them. For example, the Air Force originally told us they were buying 749 F-22 fighters at a cost of $35 million each. They ended up with 187 planes at $412 million apiece. The trend persists across the services — and sometimes, as in the case of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, no weapons are produced at all.

This may be of comfort to those who worry at the prospect of war. Yet the threat inflation that keeps the wheels turning can carry us toward catastrophe. Among the token vessels deployed to reassure Eastern European NATO countries have been one or two Aegis Destroyers, sent to patrol the Baltic and Black Seas. The missiles they carry are for air defense. Yet the launchers can just as easily carry nuclear or conventional cruise missiles, without any observer being able to tell the difference. [my emphasis]
Kari Roberts recalls that we earlier had another round of fretting about a New Cold War (Why Russia will play by the rules in the Arctic Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 21:2 (2015):

Talk in 2007–2008 of a “new Cold War” ..., while it abated under Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency, has been revived in Putin’s third term. Recently, and in addition to Russia’s agitation of the political instability in Ukraine, Russia’s harboring of Edward Snowden, and its stance of perpetual opposition to Western initiatives in dealing with the Assad regime in Syria, have revived the demonization of Russia and reawakened concerns that the West has much to fear from Russia. Such concerns were amplified by former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who likened Putin’s seizure of Crimea to Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 1930s....

Julia Ioffe suggests Russian leaders weren't necessarily being delusional when they began worrying about Western regime change attempts in the late End of History period (The End of the End of the Cold War Foreign Policy 12/21/216):

To some conservative Russian thinkers, many of whom came to influence Vladimir Putin in his third turn at the presidency, the very idea of Russia as a democracy was itself a kind of defeat. It was an imposition of a foreign system of government ill-suited to Russia’s traditions and historical insistence on greatness, unity, and the subservience of the individual to a strong, centralized state. They, and Putin, resented Westernization, especially in its geopolitical manifestations, like NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia in spite of Moscow’s protestations.

Then, in the 2000s, George W. Bush’s program of regime change and democracy promotion supported democratic uprisings in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. This terrified Putin, who feared Washington would support something similar in Moscow. He responded by actively marginalizing his opposition, creating a militant pro-government youth movement, and castrating what was left of the independent press at home. Then came the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and, quite nearly, Bashar al-Assad — all in the name of Western democracy. And it came against the backdrop of protests under the Kremlin walls of Westernized, urban, white-collar Muscovites demanding a more transparent, accountable form of government. They stood in the winter cold of December 2011 and explicitly asked for a European-style government.
Ioffe believes that Russian influence in the 2016 Presidential election was effective. But not precisely because of the Democratic National Committee hacks:

But the real victory here is landing these armies on American shores. In 2016, Putin did just that, thoroughly Russifying the U.S. presidential election. The hacks aside (which, Putin could argue, are no different than what America has done for decades during and after the Cold War in supporting “color revolutions” and regime change), what made it a victory was the imposition of a Russian model of politics onto the West, an effective and very tangible reversal of the status quo that had been in place since 1991. An American presidential election became rife with Russianesque conspiracy theories, fake news, absurdity, and the steady, strategic flow of kompromat (compromising information). It was, in other words, a downright Russian election.
Dr. Alex Pravda of the University of Oxford wrote in 2014, obviously before the US election controversy of 2016, that Western countries "micro-toughness with macro-flexibility we should concentrate on working to improve Russian compliance with jointly agreed norms" while avoiding "the kind of broadsides against Russia and its values that forms part of the New Cold War approach." (Don’t call it a new Cold War: partnership with Russia is not damaged beyond repair European Leadership Network 12/24/2014) Since Trump obviously shares more than a little of Putin's autocratic values, theoretically a Trump Family Business Administration could avoid those kind of broadsides easily. But we'll see what pops up on Twitter.

And he outlined the different priority zones that he sees shaping Russian perception of their national interest under Putin:

It is worth highlighting the variation in the intensity of conflict of interests across the arenas of our interaction with Russia. The first zone is Russia’s ‘near abroad’, the former Soviet space where it claims ‘privileged’ interests. There, it is willing to take combative action to prevent the extension of NATO and a degree of EU association that would enable neighbouring states to sustain external policies Moscow deems hostile. Russia’s sense of entitlement to a sphere of influence clashes with Western support for the sovereignty of all states in the neighbourhood. Here the conflict of interest is most direct and the West most likely to be seen by Moscow as an opponent. We need to reconfigure through consultative engagement some components of the badly shattered partnership and construct it on a new basis. In the case of Ukraine, this might include ‘devolution-max’ arrangements that would enable Kiev to sustain stable development and allow for sufficient economic ties with Russia to reassure Moscow.

In other areas of strategic importance further afield, such as the Middle East and South Asia, Russian stakes are lower and less rooted in a sense of historical identity and entitlement to dominance. National interests are defined in largely geopolitical terms. The aim is to be an indispensable player. Here, the West is a rival rather than an inveterate adversary, and Moscow is willing to negotiate deals to maximise its economic and strategic advantage. There is scope for repairing this part of the partnership as room exists for more consultation and cooperation to tackle common problems: chaotic instability and the threat posed by militant Islamic movements.

At the global level, Moscow sees itself aligning with other BRIC states to help counter-balance what it perceives as a U.S. effort to prolong dominance over a world system in which Russia is one of several emerging poles. The current pivot to China and Asia is likely to become more prominent, yet Moscow remains aware of its potential conflicts of interest with Beijing. And we should remember that Moscow’s ruling elite consider Russia historically and culturally to be an integral part of Greater Europe, not Asia. We should make a better use of this identity and European aspirations when dealing with Russia, particularly on Ukraine and its neighbours.