Sunday, January 8, 2017

Erosion in Global Alliances

 Map of NATO nations. Huffington Post
As the Congress begins to address important domestic policies, which clearly are focusing on deregulation, dismantling the Affordable Care Act and tax reform,  our military and political allies are reaching some pretty serious conclusions about the likely unraveling or weakening of our mutual defense treaties. With the President-Elect doubling down on his denial of Russian hacking and influence in the recent election, despite unanimous findings to the contrary by all of our intelligence agencies, there is fear among our allies that the US is now following the Russian playbook.
Even after a full intelligence briefing on January 6th, Trump maintained: “There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines… China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names. [Referring to the Office of Personnel Management breach in 2014 and 2015]. How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt.” Tampering with voting machines, which are not even connected to the Web, was never the issue. This was all about a complete Russian effort, under the direction of Putin himself, to discredit Trump’s opponent by leaking both private information and falsehood that were rapidly picked up by the Web and spread like wildfire. Why was getting Trump into the White House so important to Russia? More on this later.
Having totally trashed our national intelligence services, Trump held out a minor, fingers-crossed, olive branch to those agencies to come up with an anti-hacking plan within his first 90 days in office. Having denied the impact of this cyber-plan, Trump still sent shivers of concern among Western leaders over his excessively close relationship with a very threatening modern Russia. This “It’s an existential moment for all of Europe’s leaders, most of whom are only just beginning to grapple with the fact that Russia wants to destroy the Euro-American alliance.” Anne Applebaum, Op-Ed, Washington Post, January 5th.
“The US has identified the Russian agents behind alleged hacking ahead of the presidential election won by Donald Trump in November, reports say… The agents, whose names have not been released, are alleged to have sent stolen Democratic emails to WikiLeaks to try to swing the vote for Mr Trump… According to CNN, the Washington Post and NBC News citing intelligence sources, agencies had intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election showing senior Russian government officials celebrating Donald Trump's win over rival Hillary Clinton…
“Mr Trump has repeatedly rejected allegations that the Russian government was behind the hacks. On Wednesday [12/4], he repeated a suggestion that ‘a 14-year-old’ may have been responsible for the breach… On Thursday [12/5], he said he was a ‘big fan’ of intelligence agencies, but later went on to raise questions about how they responded to the security breach…
“The pro-Kremlin media line is that the US authorities have failed to present any evidence to substantiate their presidential campaign hacking accusations… The official Rossiya 24 TV channel says the ‘US secret services have still not supplied a single piece of evidence,’ while the popular web site says Washington has ‘still not provided any convincing technical data.’… Opposition websites largely cover what the major US networks are reporting, and all note the Kremlin's denial of involvement.”, January 6th. Yet that hard evidence was indeed pouring out of our intelligence agencies.
Many GOP leaders, having spent much of their political careers opposing Russia, were caught between those efforts and a desire to support their president. There was even consternation within the Trump camp itself. “Meanwhile, former CIA director R. James Woolsey Jr., a veteran of four presidential administrations, resigned yesterday [12/5] from Trump’s transition team because of growing tensions over the president-elect’s vision for intelligence agencies.” Daily 202, Washington Post, January 7th. Whether or not Russia is able to change enough votes directly, she very much benefits from the distrust and confusion – a pernicious fog, if you will – which results from her support of hacking and spread of disinformation… along with Trump-like consistent denial of any involvement despite virtually indisputable hard evidence to the contrary.
Moscow has made information and asymmetrical warfare central to its foreign and military policy. When asserting itself in Georgia and Ukraine, Russia has used a hybrid strategy that involves the funding of local politicians and militias, fake news and cyberattacks. Leading German and Polish politicians assert that Russia has engaged in some such activities in their countries as well. And now there is the apparent involvement in America’s election.” Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, January 5th.  And it’s not as if the United States were singled out for such rather damaging intrusion into the election process. Russia seems to be mounting a full-on assault against Western democracies with a rather thinly-veiled effort either to dissolve NATO or render its policies weak and ineffective.
Thorsten Benner (Co-Founder and Director of the Global Public Policy Institute, in Berlin) and Mirko Hohmann (project manager at the Global Public Policy Institute), writing for the December 16th, explain the underlying Russian goals in their hacking campaigns: “In  recent weeks, politicians and intelligence officials in France and Germany have stepped up their warnings of Russian interference in the national elections both countries will hold next year. In late November, Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Germany had ‘evidence that cyberattacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty.’  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed similar concerns, suggesting that Moscow may attempt to influence Germany’s parliamentary elections, which are slated for September 2017. French politicians have been more circumspect about the specific threats posed to their country’s presidential elections, which will be held in April and May. But Guillaume Poupard, the director-general of France’s National Agency for the Security of Information Systems, has indicated that Paris, too, is concerned about the prospect of foreign interference. Western democracies face ‘the development of a digital threat for political ends and for destabilization,’ he told Le Monde in early December…
“The use of incriminating information to publicly discredit opponents is widespread, but Russian intelligence services have a particularly strong penchant for the tactic. During the Cold War, the practice was common enough that the Russian term kompromat (a portmanteau combining the Russian words for ‘compromising’ and ‘material’) entered the Western vernacular…
“Kompromat operations do not always seek to promote particular candidates, even though Russia’s interventions in the U.S. election clearly meant to elevate Donald Trump. (French officials should expect similar moves in support of National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the coming months.) The goal is usually broader: to corrode democratic norms and institutions by discrediting the electoral process and to tarnish the reputations of democratic governments in order to establish a kind of moral equivalence between Russia and the West. From the Kremlin’s perspective, attacks on democratic political institutions are a form of payback for what it perceives as the West’s longstanding attempts to hem in and undermine Russia—most recently, the leak of the Panama Papers, which pointed to the cronyism of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and which Russian authorities attributed to Washington, and the anti-government demonstrations that roiled Russian cities after the country’s election in 2011. Putin accused Hillary Clinton, then the U.S. secretary of state, of instigating those protests.
The problem, however, is not only that is Donald Trump cozying up to master-manipulator Vladimir Putin, but he is spouting rather clear statements that seem to mirror Putin’s disdain for NATO itself and other comparable alliances. “The ideas that the United States should ‘strengthen democratic nations against aggression’ and maintain a network of ‘free states and free peoples’ around the world led to the [post WW2] creation of powerful alliances in Asia, as well as a whole host of transatlantic and European institutions that have kept Europe safe, free, prosperous and allied to the United States: the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, the Council of Europe, the European Union. Some of these institutions came with costs for the United States, but because they are the bedrock of American power in the world — because America’s allies promote American values and its interests around the world — no U.S. administration in seven decades has ever sought to undermine them.
“When Donald Trump is inaugurated this month, that will no longer be the case. Trump has made clear that he is no longer interested in promoting America’s ‘democratic faith,’ or an America that maintains a special relationship with ‘free states and free peoples.’
“In the past few weeks, some of America’s oldest and closest allies in Europe have begun to fear that Trump’s White House may not just neglect them, which has happened often enough in the past, but will actually seek to undermine them and their institutions. The link between Trump, his senior counselor and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Breitbart News, the website Bannon was running until he went to work for Trump, is what worries them most. Flush from its success in the United States, Breitbart now seeks to monetize anti-immigration and racist sentiment in Europe, too, promoting it, selling it and using it to elect populist politicians who are just as skeptical of NATO as Trump, and who will do their best to destroy the European Union as well.” Applebaum.
Will Trump actually disband NATO or withdraw the U.S. from those treaties? Unlikely, but he may in fact pledge to Russia not to expand NATO further and to reduce U.S. participation in military exercises as well as underlying funding for the organization. This may very well promote our (former?) allies to seek alternative defensive structures or alliances that no longer involve or depend upon the United States. This stance would undoubtedly lessen American influence in global affairs and may ultimate diminish the role of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency, a reality that would create rather severe negative consequences for our economy. Not to mention how quickly China and Russia will react to fill the void at our expense.
I’m Peter Dekom, and a single term from a policy-reversing U.S. president could effect a permanent and irrevocable change in American power, prestige and influence all over the world.

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