Free Markets, Free People


1 2 3 5

Another Obama administration foreign policy “triumph”

In another “foreign policy triumph” for the US, Afghanistan, a client nation of the US for over a decade, is apparently turning to an old patron:

Afghanistan, battered by worsening security, is reaching out to an old ally and patron—Russia—just as the Kremlin is seeking to reassert its position as a heavyweight on the world stage.

President Ashraf Ghani has asked Moscow for artillery, small arms and Mi-35 helicopter gunships for his country’s struggling military, Afghan and Russian officials say, after the U.S. and its allies pulled most of their troops from Afghanistan and reduced financial aid.

“Russia is seizing the opportunity,” a U.S. official said.

Certainly, there are plenty who are aware of the old saw, “the graveyard of empires” and will shrug this off as good riddance. Let Russia deal with it.

Of course the point is that Afghanistan is turning to Russia mainly because it doesn’t have any confidence in the US anymore. We all understand that Afghanistan is both tribal and corrupt. But that goes with the territory, literally and figuratively. Russia is unlikely to worry to much about that.

It also demonstrates on a micro level what we are seeing on a more macro level. With the decline of US influence in the area, Russia is taking the opportunity to assert its own. Whether you care one whit about Afghanistan, this is a disturbing trend. And, just as obvious, our “leaders” haven’t a clue on how to stop the trend. Obviously Afghanistan feels that their worsening security is inextricably linked to US decisions. The country appears to have no confidence in the US.

Unfortunately, that ‘no confidence’ vote didn’t originate in Afghanistan. It has been echoed by other countries in the region as well … to include Israel.

The foreign policy of this administration, that of Mr. Obama, Ms. Clinton and Mr. Kerry, have seen the withdrawal of the US in the area and a diminution its prestige and power.

Some may cheer this, but the bottom line is that such actions (or lack thereof) have made the region and the world a much more dangerous place than it was in 2008.


Russia’s military not as bad as reported

Apparently not. Looking at the operations in Syria, the NYT says:

Taken together, the operations reflect what officials and analysts described as a little-noticed — and still incomplete — modernization that has been underway in Russia for several years, despite strains on the country’s budget. And that, as with Russia’s intervention in neighboring Ukraine, has raised alarms in the West.

In a report this month for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Gustav Gressel argued that Mr. Putin had overseen the most rapid transformation of the country’s armed forces since the 1930s. “Russia is now a military power that could overwhelm any of its neighbors, if they were isolated from Western support,” wrote Mr. Gressel, a former officer of the Austrian military.

Of course we’ve been advised, for years, that the Russian military was only a shadow of its former self under the USSR.  And while it certainly isn’t as potent as when Russia was the USSR, it is apparently vastly more potent than we’ve been led to believe.

Another factoid from the article:

Russia’s fighter jets are, for now at least, conducting nearly as many strikes in a typical day against rebel troops opposing the government of President Bashar al-Assad as the American-led coalition targeting the Islamic State has been carrying out each month this year.

The bottom line, of course, is we still have a much more powerful military – but we’re in the middle of cutting back on it both in manpower and spending.  And, of course, that sort of power is only important if your potential enemies know you’re willing to use it.  Russia is demonstrating that willingness.

Russia is also “field testing” its equipment and it is “blooding” its troops.

Not to mention rallying “allies” to the Russian cause.  China has sent forces to Syria.  And the latest?

On Wednesday, a U.S. official confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and special forces units are on the ground in Syria, citing evidence from intelligence reports. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cuban troops may have been training in Russia and may have arrived in Syria on Russian planes.

Isn’t normalization with Cuba wonderful? Isn’t that reset with Russia working out well?  It sure has been rewarding so far.


The US in a “weak” position in Syria, notes Putin

Noting the obvious, Vladimir Putin pointed out that the US is in a very weak position concerning Syria:

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued a war of words with the U.S. over Syria, calling its policy weak and lacking in objectives as his air force carried out fresh bombing raids in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

“I don’t really understand how the U.S. can criticize Russia’s actions in Syria if they refuse to have direct dialogue,” Putin told reporters Thursday during a visit to Astana, Kazakhstan. “The basic weakness of the American position is that they don’t have an agenda, though we’re keeping the door open” for high-level discussions with Washington, he said.

Of course, the administration had an answer:

“We’ve said that we’re not interested in doing that as long as Russia is not willing to make a constructive contribution to our counter-ISIL effort,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday, using an acronym for Islamic State. “Russia has their own agenda and it’s an agenda right now that they’re pursuing on their own.”

I suppose that’s so … but so does the US and it is apparent there really isn’t any desire for “dialogue” unless the US can have its way.  And it is a basic understanding in negotiations that the weaker party doesn’t have as many choices (if any) than the stronger party.  The US is certainly in the weaker position having ceded control of the Syrian conflict to Russia.  Also, don’t forget that the US withheld military aid to Iraq until Iraq made political changes it wanted to see happen.  What did Iraq do?  Well, it bought its fighter aircraft from Russia instead (likely with US money).

As for the possibility of talks.  Well, it seems that NATO partner Turkey has figured out a way to have them:

Russia and NATO member Turkey are establishing “lines of communication between our militaries in connection with events taking place in Syria” amid tensions over violations of Turkish airspace, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov told a conference in Moscow on Thursday, Interfax reported. Turkey and Russia can find consensus on Syria, Umit Yardim, the Turkish ambassador to Moscow, said at the same meeting.

Interesting and telling.

Foreign affairs, for this administration, is a disaster.  And they seem determined to make it worse instead of better.


Pact with Iraq, Syria, Russia and Iran announced prior to UN talks with Putin

If ever there was proof of Russia’s intentions in the Middle East, it can be seen in a just announced 4 nation pact there:

Iraq joined Russia, Iran and Syria in a new agreement to strengthen cooperation against extremist group Islamic State, extending the Kremlin’s reach in the Middle East as it rivals Washington for influence.


Iraq’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that the country had signed an intelligence and security cooperation pact with Russia, Iran and Syria, pledging to cooperate in collecting information about Islamic State. The deal effectively formalizes years of military collaboration among the four nations, which have intermittently been allies since the 1980s.

Wonderful.  And who, pray, is on the outside looking in and surprised by the pact?

U.S. officials appeared to be taken by surprise by the announcement of the four-nation security pact and said they were still struggling to understand Mr. Putin’s long-term strategy for the region. Mr. Kerry, they said, kept open the possibility that the White House and Kremlin could coordinate, if not cooperate, in fighting Islamic State.

“We’re just at the beginning of trying to understand what the Russians’ intentions are in Syria, in Iraq, and to try to see if there are mutually beneficial ways forward here,” said a senior U.S. official who attended the Kerry-Lavrov meeting. “We’ve got a long way to go in that conversation.”

“Just in the beginning of trying to understand”?  Translation: “we’ve been caught flat-footed and hadn’t a clue that high-level talks between Russia and Iraq were happening”.  While Kerry may feel they have a “long way to go in that conversation,” Russia has obviously moved beyond the talking stage and is in the “taking action” stage.  The intent seems to be obvious to everyone but our State Department.

ISIS is the catalyst, or at least the excuse, for this alliance.  And most experts agree ISIS is mostly a result of the poor Iraq policy followed by the US after the Obama administration took over.  What Iraq is signaling here is no confidence in the US and with the pact, seems satisfied to let the US remain outside, looking in.  Why?  Well, take for example the fact that Russia sold fighter aircraft to Iraq last year to boost its ability to fight ISIS.  Where was the US?  It had delayed a promised shipment over political considerations.  Iraq is now negotiating with Moscow to buy more advanced weaponry.

Additionally, the Obama administration and the Russians and Iranians are at cross-purposes when it comes to Syria.  Both Russia and Iran have been very clear they support the Assad regime and hope to strengthen it.  The Obama administration has repeatedly said that Assad has to go.

What basis there are for talks between Russia and the US (at the UN this week) remain a mystery.  But what is very clear with the announcement of this pact just prior to those talks is the US enters them with an incredibly weak hand.  It has very little to use for leverage to get its way.  But one thing that can be determined for sure –  this administration’s past actions, or lack thereof, have put the US in this weak and unenviable diplomatic position.

Outfoxed again.  How “surprising”.


Obama’s weakness is Russia’s strength

One of the many lowlights of this administration has been its many foreign policy failures.  Many, if not most, are attributable to a lack of leadership and an abdication of the US’s role in world politics.  As most observers of international politics have understood for centuries, when one power withdraws or becomes weak, other powers will both test it and fill the vacuum their withdrawal creates.

The NY Post editorial board provides a perfect example of this administration’s poor “policy” concerning Syria:

Secretary of State John Kerry says Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad has got to go. Where have we heard that one before?

Of course, it’s been a regular refrain of President Obama and both of his secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton even more than Kerry — for years now.

Kerry repeated the demand after talks with the British foreign secretary last week — but with one new wrinkle: Assad must step aside, said Kerry — but there’ s no rush. He added: “We’re not being doctrinaire about the specific date or time; we’re open.”

Not only is he not being “doctrinaire” he’s broadcasting weakness like a clear channel radio station.  “We’re open” tells the world they haven’t a plan, a demand, or frankly, a clue.  He’s telling Syria, and specifically Assad, that there is nothing to fear from the US.  Nothing.

Remember those red lines we drew?  Disappearing ink.  Once they were crossed, it was like they never existed.

Cue the power vacuum.  And, who moves in?

And the situation just got infinitely more complicated by Russia’s active military involvement in Syria. As Kerry said, the Russians “are bringing in more equipment to shore up Assad at the same time they say they are going after” ISIS.

That position, he said, has “a lack of logic.”

No: It makes perfect sense when Washington has abdicated leadership. Nature abhors a vacuum — especially on the world stage.

Exactly.  What, you may ask, is in it for Russia?  Well, for one it can put a thumb in the eye of the US (and it is).   But it also helps reestablish old “client links” that the former USSR had in the area.  And, as Russia works with Iran to defeat ISIS, it establishes links there and it is in a position to have a big say in Iraq.  And it certainly makes sense that should Russia help Assad hang on and retake the country, Putin would have a solid client state in the middle east from which to base Russia’s influence operation.

So what has the US done?  Well, according to testimony given last week before Congress, we’ve spent half a billion dollars training up 4 or 5 soldiers in an anti-ISIS effort.  In fact, the effort has been so poor and haphazard that the chief anti-ISIS coordinator, ex-Gen. John Allen, is leaving out of frustration with the lack of a strategy or results.

Meanwhile our Secretary of State is left weakly complaining:

Meanwhile, Kerry complains that “Assad has refused to have a serious discussion and Russia has refused to help bring him to the table in order to do that. So that’s why we are where we are.”

Why in the world should Assad have a serious discussion with a paper tiger?  Or Russia for that matter?  What in the world is the downside for either if they don’t cooperate?

More disappearing red lines?


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 18 Jul 14

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about The Malaysian Airlines tragedy, Obama, and aggressive policing.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

So how are those sanctions against Russia going?

Ask France:

France will press ahead with a 1.2 billion-euro ($1.66 billion) contract to sell helicopter carriers to Russia because cancelling the deal would do more damage to Paris than to Moscow, French diplomatic sources said on Monday.

France has come under pressure from Washington and some European partners to reconsider its supply of high-tech military hardware to Moscow. It had said it would review the deal in October – but not before.

However, French diplomatic sources said on Monday the 2011 contract with Russia for two Mistral helicopter carriers, with an option for two more, would not be part of a third round of sanctions against Moscow.

“The Mistrals are not part of the third level of sanctions. They will be delivered. The contract has been paid and there would be financial penalties for not delivering it.

“It would be France that is penalized. It’s too easy to say France has to give up on the sale of the ships. We have done our part.”

And, we can’t have the sanctions hurt France, can we?

One of the attack helicopter carriers will be deployed in the Black Sea, where all the trouble began:

The first carrier, the Vladivostok, is due to be delivered by the last quarter of 2014. The second, named Sebastopol after the Crimean seaport, is supposed to be delivered by 2016.

How does France justify its intention to provide the ships?

“We are not delivering armed warships, but only the frame of the ship,” the source said.

That, of course, misses the entire point of sanctions. It is a punishment for wrong behavior. It is supposed to be a way one side teaches the other not to do what it has done. And the Western powers agreed that “strong sanctions” be imposed because of Russia’s unacceptable behavior. Now we see the exceptions being made – exceptions that Russia will, rightfully, view as weakness.

Additionally, that “frame” the French are dismissing as inconsequential will give Russia access to advanced technology. And these “frames” have quite a potent capability. The Mistral can carry up to 16 attack helicopters, such as Russia’s Kamov Ka-50/52; more than 40 tanks or 70 motor vehicles; and up to 700 soldiers.

As for leadership from the US insisting that the French not provide the Russians with advanced weaponry?

A French government source said at no point had the U.S. officially expressed any concern over the sale …

Another example of why “strong sanctions” is, in reality, an oxymoron, especially when the Western powers are concerned.


Russia, Afghanistan and the US: A changing of the guard

Earlier in the week, former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld had some rather harsh words to say about the current administration’s relationship with Afghanistan.

“Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first-rate in the Bush administration,” Rumsfeld told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren on Monday. “It has gone down hill like a toboggan ever since the Obama administration came in.”

Rumsfeld pointed to the fact that the Obama administration has failed to get Karzai to sign an agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, when combat ends.

The U.S. has status of forces agreements with more than a hundred countries, Rumsfeld noted. “A trained ape can get a status of forces agreement,” he said. “It does not take a genius. And we have so mismanaged that relationship.”

Now I’m not going to go for the troll about that being a “racist statement”.  Neither of our SecStates or SecDefs were/are black and that’s who would be charged with getting a SOFA agreement.  Rumsfeld’s right.  The relationship has dramatically and drastically changed.  And he’s also right about why:

“And what happened is, the United States government — and I realize these are tough jobs, being president or secretary of state. But, by golly, they have trashed Karzai publicly over and over and over — (Richard) Holbrooke, the special envoy did, Vice President Biden did, Secretary Hillary Clinton has. The president has been unpleasant to him.

“And it seems to me they pushed him in a political box where he really has very little choice. I think there is probably not a politician in the world who dealing with the United States, instead of having the United States deal with him privately through private diplomacy, came out repeatedly, publicly, in an abusive, unpleasant, manner. And I personally sympathize with him to some extent.”

Again, he’s precisely right.  This administration did all it could … in public … to poison the relations.  And yes, Afghanistan is likely corrupt and Karzai as well, but that’s nothing new there.  Karzai was installed by the Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga (assembly).  He’s their president.  It’s a tribal culture.  Figure it out for heaven sake … oh, and keep in mind the big picture instead of playing small ball.

Anyway, these sorts of actions cause reactions and have consequences.  The latest?

Citing “the free will of the Crimean people,” Karzai’s office said, “We respect the decision the people of Crimea took through a recent referendum that considers Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.” To date, only Syria and Venezuela have taken a similar position.

Does it embarrass the US publicly?  You bet.  And that’s precisely why Karzai did it (or it is at least one of the reasons he did it).  And, there’s more:

“In Afghanistan, Russian officials point to their development activities as a counterexample to U.S. aid projects, which many Afghans criticize as wasteful and misguided. . . . Many Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, praise the Soviet model even though they fought a bloody 10-year war against the country’s army, which invaded in 1979 to support an unpopular communist government.

“The Soviet money went to the right place. They were efficient in spending their money and doing it through the Afghan government,” Karzai said in an interview with The Washington Post this month.

Yes, there’s likely corruption. Yes the “Afghan government” is likely getting its hands on some of that money. But when in Rome, and looking for particular results, maybe knowing what to expect in such a culture and a willingness to play the game might turn out better results (and be cheaper) in the long run that trying to go around the incumbent government and forcing yourself on the population. You know, just a thought … which, apparently is more than our State Department commits to Afghanistan anymore.

Funny, in an ironic sense, isn’t it? “We welcome our former overlords”.

Outplayed by Russia … again.


1 2 3 5