‘Russia Has Won the Proxy War in Syria’: Deal With US Fulfills Moscow’s Mission


Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and President of Syria Bashar al-Assad at a meeting in Syria

Commenting on the recent developments in the Syrian conflict and the agreement between Russia and the US on the coordination of bombing missions in the country, many media sources now agree that Moscow has the upper hand in the conflict and its agreement with the US will grant it and its ally Iran the final victory.

“Russia has won the proxy war, at least for now,” Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington told the New York Times.

The statement refers to the recently announced agreement between Russia and the US on a plan to share intelligence and coordinate airstrikes against the Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria.Earlier in July, US officials put forward a proposal that would see Russian and US air forces conduct joint strikes against Daesh and Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda branch in Syria.

While on his visit to Moscow, US Secretary of State John Kerry proposed the US share intelligence and targeting data with Russia and coordinate bombing missions.

US and Russian air forces would maintain their separate headquarters but would share a joint command center in Amman, Jordan.

Previously, the two nations coordinated air operations only to maintain the safety of each other’s aircraft, not in terms of targeting or intelligence on locations of rebel positions.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Laos last week, said he hoped to be able to announce the details of a US-Russian understanding in the first week of August.

Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer who now studies Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the New York Times that “the Russians had built a capable intelligence network in Syria, giving them a better understanding of the terrain and location of rebel forces.”

“That has allowed Russian troops to call in precision airstrikes, making them more effective against the rebels.”Thus, the newspaper says, President Putin “has achieved many of his larger goals — to prop up Mr. Assad’s government, retain access to the longtime Russian naval base on the Mediterranean Sea and use Syria as a proving ground for the most advanced Russian military technology.”

The New York Times sounds somewhat surprised that the Russian leader has done it “without becoming caught in a quagmire that some — including President Obama — had predicted he would.”

This view is echoed by Fabrice Balanche, an expert in the Middle East, who also forecasts that the agreement between the US and Russia could signal a victory for Moscow and Tehran in Syria.

In his article for the French newspaper Le Figaro he suggests that ”the summer of 2016 might become a moment of truth in Syria, not the ultimate end of the fighting on the ground, but a true victory for Russia and Iran.”His comment also refers to the military cooperation agreement between Russia and the US in Syria.

The expert suggests that it came as the result of the US’ “disillusion with the crisis that never ends, the success of the Russian strategy in Syria and the need to clear up the field for Hilary Clinton.”

“Indeed, a major jihadist attack in the United States right ahead of the presidential election scheduled for November 6, would have most likely pushed voters to Donald Trump,” he suggests.

“The American public believes that the main danger is the radical Islamists and not the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Therefore, the aim of the US government should be a hard and unambiguous fight against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh).”

It seems that this is also the opinion of Barack Obama, much to the dismay of advocates of “regime change,” he finally notes.


Russia Keeps Its Friends Close and Turkey Closer

Henry Kissinger reminds us that in international relations, states do not have permanent friends or enemies, only interests. That lesson reverberated Tuesday in St. Petersburg, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan let bygones be bygones with his “dear friend, the esteemed Vladimir” in an ironic (and somewhat excessive) display of diplomatic reconciliation.

Over the course of only seven months, Turkey and Russia have gone from ranking each other as public enemy No. 1 to catching up as old friends. Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin seem to be treating the November 2015 shootdown of a Russian Su-24 by Turkish F-16s and the feuding that followed as an anomaly in an otherwise chummy relationship. As Putin said, “Our priority is to bring our relations back to pre-jet crisis level” — basically to get past this ugly episode and have everything go back to normal.

What is a Geopolitical Diary?

If only it were that easy. Turkey and Russia were already on an inevitable collision course before Turkey shot down the Russian fighter in Syria. Russia, on the one hand, has been working for years to preserve a sphere of influence against Western encroachment, and it showed through its military campaigns in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 that it was ready to apply force when necessary to keep its neighbors in line and its bigger adversaries at bay. But those Russian actions only hardened U.S. resolve to defend allies in the Russian periphery, thereby deepening the standoff between Washington and Moscow. To get Washington to take its demands seriously, Russia needed to position itself as both a spoiler and a mediator in a conflict consuming the United States’ attention. First that conflict was Iran, but once the United States negotiated its way to the Iran nuclear deal, Russia shifted its focus to Syria.

Meanwhile, power vacuums were spreading across the Middle East, gradually pulling Turkey to act beyond its borders. As the civil war in Syria persisted, Turkey was both concerned about the instability and the spread of Kurdish separatism and enticed by the opportunity to reshape the Levant under Sunni control and Turkish tutelage. Just as Russia had decided to deepen its involvement in Syria, the Turkish government was making plans to step in to deal with the growing Kurdish and Islamic State threat. Turkey and Russia, when both are on a resurgent path, have overlapping spheres of influence in the Black Sea region, parts of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. At this particular geopolitical juncture, the Middle East was where Turkey and Russia collided. And as much as the United States benefited from Turkey being at odds with Russia and thus more committed to NATO at the time, the White House decided it was better off facilitating a rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara if it meant reducing the risk of another major accidental collision on the Syrian battlefield that could draw in the United States.

Putin and Erdogan are using an array of economic promises to show the world that Turkish-Russian relations are restored and all is well, but nothing has actually changed in the broader geopolitical dynamic to resolve the underlying friction between their countries. This is likely why Putin and Erdogan held a press conference after discussing the lifting of trade bans, restoration of tourist traffic and resumption of energy cooperation and before getting into the issue of Syria. The economic cooperation is the easy part. Both Russia and Turkey benefit from doing business with each other. Turkey cannot live without Russian natural gas, and Russia badly wants an alternative supply route to Europe, such as Turkish Stream, that circumvents problematic countries such as Ukraine. Even if there are hang-ups over pricing discounts and regulations, as big projects always entail, there is little cost to Turkey and Erdogan in promoting such economic cooperation at the highest level.

Syria, however, is an area where Russia and Turkey are unavoidably and diametrically opposed. The ongoing battle in Aleppo is a case in point. Putin and Erdogan can discuss their desire for a peace settlement in Syria, but the two main parties to the negotiation — Turkish-backed Sunni rebels and Russian-backed Alawite-led government forces — are still grappling over the city, a strategic piece of territory. Neither side will come seriously to the negotiating table unless they have Aleppo firmly in their grasp. And from the look of the fighting that has punctuated the past month in Aleppo — the loyalist siege, rebel offensive and loyalist counteroffensive — we are nowhere near a point where either side can claim control.

Russia will continue to use the Syrian standoff against Turkey even as Putin cooperates with Erdogan. Russia wants to ensure that Turkey — which is central to any NATO decision to build up forces in the Black Sea and is also a significant player in the Caucasus, where Russia is trying to deepen its influence through the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute — steers clear of Russia as much as possible. With Turkey’s priorities concentrated in Syria, Moscow can keep Turkey on the hook by continuing to support Kurdish separatists and by complicating any Turkish military designs for Syria through Russia’s presence on the battlefield. In the wake of Turkey’s failed coup attempt, Putin, a master in internal security, can also hold out the benefits of intelligence sharing and pass on useful techniques to coup-proof Erdogan’s government as a way to keep Ankara close.

Putin and Erdogan are two strongmen with grand geopolitical ambitions. They are not in the business of making friends; they are dedicated to the pursuit of their national interests. Rest assured, there will be more points down the line where Turkish and Russian national interests collide.


How to Counter Putin’s Subversive War on the West

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a personal send-off for members of the Russian Olympic team at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 27, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a personal send-off for members of the Russian Olympic team at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 27, 2016

Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

by William Courtney and Martin C. Libicki

Russia’s apparent cyberespionage against the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign organizations and its state-sponsored doping of Olympic athletes show an obsession with disruptive behavior as a tool of statecraft. Such actions put Russia at risk of being known as a rogue elephant rather than a respected global power.

Cyberwar and sports doping are among the arrows in Moscow’s quiver of “active measures,” a triple threat of propaganda, deception and subversion that dates to the Soviet era.

Recent active measures include Moscow’s aid to right-wing political parties in Europe, such as the National Front in France, and a ploy to embarrass German Chancellor Angela Merkel by falsely claiming that Arab migrants in Berlin had raped a Russian-German girl. In the 1980s, the USSR spread a lie that America had created the AIDS virus in a laboratory and purposely spread it.

The release of stolen Democratic National Committee (DNC) documents on the eve of the Democratic Party’s national convention may mean that the Kremlin has it in for Clinton. In 2011–12, tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest the rule of Vladimir Putin. He blamed Clinton, then secretary of state, for “signaling” the demonstrators.

The Kremlin might have surmised that even if its email theft was at some point exposed, Washington would shy away from slapping on even more sanctions.

It’s not yet clear which candidate will be hurt more, if at all, by the hack and disclosures.

Russian security services are sophisticated in cyberspace. In 2008, they apparently penetrated a secret U.S. Department of Defense network, SIPRNet. Also that year, they launched cyberattacks on Georgia just ahead of a ground force invasion, impeding Tbilisi’s efforts to tell its story of the conflict to the rest of the world. Georgia restored its voice by re-hosting websites in America.

In 2010, Russian cyberactors penetrated Nasdaq’s computer systems. In 2014, a U.S. cybersecurity company accused a Russian group of carrying out espionage against hundreds of U.S. industrial companies.

Russia resists prosecuting or extraditing cybercriminals, even though they rob its banks and sap its economy. In 2013, after U.S. agents lured a Russian cybercriminal to the Maldives and arrested him, the Kremlin warned against travel to countries with U.S. extradition treaties.

Internationally agreed norms and laws for cyberspace do not exist. Prospects for effective limits are poor. Compliance could not be reliably verified, and states would not accept limits that they viewed as putting at risk their security.

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s probe of the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Russian athletes may cost Moscow the prestige that comes with Olympic medals, as 100 athletes, more than a quarter of Russia’s national team, are banned from the Rio games.

The agency’s investigation uncovered widespread, state-sponsored doping that included a cover-up of failed drug tests. The agency reported that for years doping was common among Russia’s athletes, calling into question the legitimacy of their performances at past Olympic games.

Russian cybercrime, Olympics doping and other active measures have one thing in common: Moscow admits no wrongdoing.

The Kremlin has sought to lay blame for the doping scandal on an international political conspiracy to discredit Russia. It has likewise denied involvement in the hacking. These scandals exacerbate the frigid relations between Moscow and the West, making efforts to prod Russia toward better behavior all the more challenging.

Diplomacy sometimes works slowly, but it helps. The West should turn up the heat on Russia to join and implement the 2004 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. Adhered to by 49 states, it commits them to harmonize criminal laws, bolster investigative powers and deepen international cooperation. Russia claims that the convention would violate its sovereignty, even though Russian cybercrime infringes that of many other states.

It is critical to deny the use of cyberspace to militant organizations that abuse it to recruit personnel and coordinate operations. In this area, Russia and the West have some parallel interests, and the capacity to act.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration mounted a campaign of public disclosure to counter Moscow’s active measures. Sunlight may remain the best disinfectant. The Kremlin is sensitive to foreign perceptions, as shown by its substantial investment in the government-funded television network RT, Sputnik and other instruments of propaganda.

Moscow’s provocative active measures cause foreign investors and international lenders to see higher risks in doing business with Russia. Iran is learning a similar, painful lesson as it persists with harsh anti-Western policies even as nuclear-related sanctions fade.

Russia will decide its own priorities. But it should not be surprised if disregard for others’ interests diminishes the international regard it seeks as an influential great power.

William Courtney is an adjunct senior fellow at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and was U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, Georgia and a U.S.-Soviet nuclear testing commission. Martin Libicki is a senior management scientist at RAND and author of the forthcoming book Cyberspace in Peace and War.

This commentary originally appeared on Newsweek on August 1, 2016.


The Kremlin’s Advantage

The hack of the U.S. Democratic National Committee emails, now widely attributed to Russian intelligence, has set off a political earthquake in the United States. The brazenness of the attack, the crude attempt to intervene in a U.S. presidential election, and the equally bald-faced denial in the face of mounting evidence of Russian government complicity have prompted a host of questions that really amount to just one: How? Although a fully satisfactory answer may never be found, it is not too early to draw some conclusions from the episode—conclusions that should inform the general discourse about Russia, as well as about the challenge that Russia will present to the next U.S. administration, regardless of who is elected in November.

Those experts (including this writer), who, out of an abundance of caution, initially grappled with the news of the DNC break-in by invoking the inherent difficulty of investigating cybercrimes, now have the growing body of fact and analysis pointing to Russia’s role in the hack. In keeping with National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s recent remarks on this subject, the assumption should be that Russia was behind the break-in. At this point, to deny it would simply be misleading the public.Why did the Russian government do it? Because it could. Knowledge is power. Having the inside scoop on an adversary is a source of leverage that is too good to pass up. And collecting such intelligence is what the Russian intelligence services have a long record of doing with some skill and success.

And why did the hackers release the data stolen from the DNC? Did they really intend to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and to help their presumed favorite, the Republican Donald Trump? It would seem naïve or delusional to expect that the leak would affect the vote in a country of well over 300 million in a campaign with so many resources being expended by so many interests. Any analysis of the Russian government’s intentions requires a great deal of speculation. But some things are known.

Russian government and state-sponsored agents have intervened in other countries’ elections and domestic politics. They have done so in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy, just to name some U.S. allies. For Russia’s neighbors—Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Moldova—Moscow’s heavy hand in their domestic politics is a constant worry. Just because the United States is big and powerful doesn’t mean that its domestic politics is necessarily off limits to Russian intelligence. In fact, the United States’ position in the world as the only truly global power makes it even more of a target for Russian intelligence.

Kremlin operatives probably remember that the 2000 U.S. presidential election was determined by a few “hanging chads.” The 2016 election may well be decided by a small number of disgruntled supporters of former Democratic contender Bernie Sanders, as these supporters may make the decision to stay home, instead of voting for Clinton. In that sense, the release of stolen DNC documents may be just the thing to tip the scales against her.

This warrants a hard look at whether Trump is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favored choice. The record is remarkable: the public exchange of pleasantries between Trump and Putin; the Russian money reportedly invested in Trump’s projects; his skeptical, transactional approach to NATO; his hinting at possible recognition of Crimea as Russian territory and lifting of the sanctions on Russia; and his most recent claim that Putin “is not going to go into Ukraine.” At the same time, Putin is on the record accusing Clinton of fomenting unrest in Russia. And Clinton’s dislike of the Russian president before the DNC hack was equally well documented and undoubtedly has grown more intense since then.

None of this should come as a surprise, just as nobody was surprised when the North Korean government hacked into Sony Pictures’ computers. The only shock there was the technical expertise demonstrated by the paranoid hermit kingdom. And Russian rulers are just as paranoid about the West—the United States, in particular—and its attempts to encircle Russia, destabilize it at home, and marginalize it on the world stage.

Much has been written about Russian “hybrid warfare”—a term that covers a wide range of activities, including covert operations, the use of irregulars and criminal elements, cyber operations, information and disinformation campaigns, and so on. Russia has practiced hybrid warfare with varying degrees of success in Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, in the Baltic states, and in Syria.

Less noted is that Russian security services see Russia as being even more a victim of hybrid warfare than an aggressor. U.S. support for democracy in and around Russia is a threat to the Kremlin. The release of the Panama Papers, which revealed information about the hidden wealth and presumed corrupt activities of the ruling elite, has been portrayed by the Kremlin as an effort in Washington to discredit it and destabilize Russia. By the same token, the Olympic doping scandal is also seen as a Western plot against Russia. U.S.-EU economic sanctions against Russia that were put in place in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are described as a cover for the real goal—to weaken and promote regime change in Russia.

In the eyes of Russian elites, Western aggression must be met with a response. Hacking into DNC computers and releasing information on the Democrats’ fundraising practices is simply payback for Western media reports about elite corruption in Russia. It helps boost the Russian narrative that money and politics go hand in hand everywhere and that Russia is no different from the United States or other Western countries whose governments are critical of Russia.

Getting caught red-handed likely won’t even hurt Putin’s standing at home. The Russian public is long used to the war of kompromats—dishing dirt on political opponents or business competitors—which has become a staple of post-Soviet Russian politics and business. Russian business tycoons and the Kremlin pioneered and fine-tuned this form of combat in the 1990s using media outlets they owned or controlled. Criticism from the West doesn’t mean much in Russia these days—Putin’s popular approval rating shot up to near 90 percent after he annexed Crimea.

And so this is business as usual. Russia is outgunned—its defense spending is a fraction of that of the United States. The Russian economy, too, is far smaller than the United States’. The Kremlin will not try to match the United States gun for gun and tank for tank. But it will exploit what advantages it has.

It will use military force—carefully—where the correlation of forces favors it or where its military planners can assure their leaders that military action will not lead to disaster. Ukraine is the case in which the Kremlin had a compelling interest, clear military superiority, and an equally clear assurance that the United States would not intervene.

Syria was another case where Russian military action was necessary to protect Russian interests and was associated with few risks. It was needed to support the faltering Bashar al-Assad regime and entailed relatively small risks because the Obama administration had made clear its reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria.

But where the use of military force carries with it significant risks that are not justified by compelling interests, other instruments from the Russian toolkit are and will continue to be used. For example, an outright military attack against the Baltic states would be risky for Russia. It would carry with it the threat of a devastating NATO retaliation and nuclear annihilation. Therefore, the Baltics will be subjected to a steady barrage of information operations, disinformation, cyber attacks, airspace violations, and poking and prodding to rattle the countries’ nerves and undermine their confidence in NATO.

Germany will be subjected to disinformation, spying, and meddling in its domestic politics. France’s right-wing National Front will be the target of Russian attempts to gain influence in French politics. And the U.S. government and its parties can count on their computers being the focus of special attention by Russian hackers, both from intelligence services and those kept at arm’s length to pretend they are not part of the Russian state.

Events of the past few years—from the annexation of Crimea to the DNC hack—are not an aberration; rather, they are part of the same chain. The adversarial, hostile relationship with Russia is here to stay. Putin is here to stay, too, so betting on outlasting him would be unwise. He appears very likely to run and be re-elected in 2018, which means he will be in the Kremlin until 2024—through the next U.S. presidential term and the one after that.

Some of the needed steps are already being taken—military preparedness moves that were proposed and adopted at NATO’s Wales and Warsaw summits are necessary and will probably be followed by more measures to boost NATO’s conventional and nuclear defense and deterrent capabilities. But tanks and guns alone are not enough. More needs to be done—in cyber, intelligence, information operation, and other forms of hybrid warfare, as well as deterrence, along with resilience and defense measures against it to meet Russia’s challenge. More also is needed to be ready to conduct counter-offensive operations when the need arises. And all of this has to be done while also looking for ways to avoid accidental escalation and maintain some lines of communications with the Kremlin. Recognizing the nature of the threat that Russia presents is the first step toward dealing with it.

Rumer, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, is a senior associate and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program.

Eugene Rumer

Director and Senior Associate
Russia and Eurasia Program

More from this author…

This article originally appeared in Foreign Affairs.


Bajo la Lupa

 ¿Triángulo geopolítico entre Rusia, Turquía e Irán?

El presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin, atiende preguntas de periodistas durante una conferencia conjunta con su homólogo de Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, el miércoles pasado en el KremlinFoto Ap
Alfredo Jalife-Rahme
En sólo dos días, 8 y 9 de agosto, quizá se dibujó la nueva cartografía geopolítica que va del mar Negro al mar Caspio –y probablemente hasta el océano Índico– con las dos cumbres que se escenificaron, la primera en Bakú entre los mandatarios de Azerbaiyán, Irán y Rusia (http://goo.gl/IjuQp7), y la segunda, entre los presidentes de Turquía –en su delicada fase posgolpe– y Rusia, nada menos que en San Petersburgo, ciudad natal del zar Vlady Putin.

No significa que dos cantidades iguales a un tercero, sean iguales entre sí, pero los acercamientos espectaculares a Rusia, de parte de dos magnas potencias regionales del gran Medio Oriente, la sunita Turquía (http://goo.gl/IczzUQ) y la chiíta Irán, son susceptibles de cambiar dramáticamente la coreografía bélica desde el mar Negro hasta el mar Caspio, la cual, mediante el posicionamiento de Irán, puede inclusive conectarse al océano Índico.

Antes de las respectivas cumbres de Putin en Bakú y San Petersburgo, el diario ruso Vzgliad había adelantado que “Rusia busca crear un triángulocon Irán y Turquía (http://goo.gl/JcEgej)”.

En realidad, Rusia busca obliterar su flanco sur, específicamente en el Transcáucaso, pilar euroasiático entre el mar Negro y el mar Caspio: trampa del yihadismo que le ha tendido el plan Brzezinski en forma ininterrumpida desde la creación de los muyahidines sunitas a finales de los setenta del siglo pasado: abuelos y padres de los yihadistas posmodernos (http://goo.gl/I1kn6D).

Según el portal iraní Press TV, “Irán y Rusia esbozan un mapa que rivalice con el canal de Suez (http://goo.gl/Y0bpEF)”. Se trata de un Corredor de Transporte Internacional Norte-Sur (NSTC, por sus siglas en inglés) de 7 mil 200 kilómetros: ruta multimodal que conecte India (¡supersic!) y Medio Oriente al Cáucaso, Asia Central a Europa con el fin de reducir en forma significativa los costos y la duración del transporte comercial.

Según la logística ferroviaria rusa, el nuevo corredor Mumbai/Bandar Abbas/Bakú/Astracán/Moscú/San Petersburgo recortaría el tiempo de transporte en 14 días y elimina la necesidad de pasar a través del canal de Suez, que se encuentra sobrecargado y es muy caro. Aquí los estrategas rusos tendrán que decidirse entre los vulgares costos mercantilistas y los altos costos geoestratégicos, ya que el premier ruso, Dmitri Medvedev, ha sido un impulsor notorio del ampliado nuevo canal de Suezboicoteado por los multimedia occidentales.

El nuevo canal de Suez, que costó 15 mil millones de dólares, fue financiado en forma asombrosa por los patriotas egipcios quienes se volcaron a comprar sus bonos (http://goo.gl/d8Rmol).

No veo la razón por la cual tengan que competir el nuevo canal de Suezy el proyecto NSTC ruso-iraní, ya que cada uno tiene rutas y objetivos diferentes.

Cabe señalar la conectividad de India (hoy tercera potencia geoeconómica global que ya desplazó a Japón) con Irán (con una economía similar a la de Turquía, miembro del G-20) en la construcción conjunta del superestratégico puerto de Chabahar en el país persa (http://goo.gl/4PqoAO).

La era multipolar es no lineal e hipercompleja: no apta para reduccionistas mentes maniqueas.

Me he tardado más en la dimensión iraní que en su análoga turca, debido a que es menos conocida por el boicot multimediático de Occidente.

No se puede soslayar que la parte norte de Irán es similar étnicamente a Azerbaiyán cuando hasta el supremo líder ayatolá Jamenei pertenece a la etnia azerí, como se llama a los originarios del Azerbaiyán independiente y del Azerbaiyán iraní.

La visita del sultán Erdogan al zar Putin ha provocado repercusiones en dos puntos del mar Negro, específicamente con la desestabilización de la península de Crimea por el gobierno de Kiev (https://goo.gl/Wm5vQb) y el sensible recalentamiento del Donbass: región oriental rusófila de Ucrania.

La desestabilización de Crimea –que cobró la vida de dos funcionarios rusos (https://goo.gl/bv2q6q)– ha enfurecido a Putin y ha llevado a que Rusia anuncie ejercicios navales simultáneos en el mar Mediterráneo y el mar Caspio para simular una “batalla total (https://goo.gl/WwxadL)”.

¿Se tambalea el pentapartita “acuerdo de Minsk (http://goo.gl/CCb4L6)”?

En forma tanto reactiva como preventiva –a cualquier aventura bélica de EU, la OTAN y Ucrania en el mar Negro–, Rusia ha colocado avanzados sistemas antiaéreos S-400 en Crimea (https://goo.gl/XSahPI).

Ya habrá tiempo de sopesar los alcances de los acuerdos entre Erdogan y Putin que dejan atrás el derribo del avión ruso en la transfrontera sirio-turca.

Erdogan y Putin han generado notables avances en varios rubros –turismo, comercio, tránsito de gasoductos, etcétera– que no necesariamente atraen a Turquía, que todavía es miembro de la OTAN, a la órbita rusa.

¿Podrá escapar Turquía de su jaula en la OTAN que domina EU?

¿Qué advendrá de la base estadunidense de Incirlik y sus 90 bombas nucleares (http://goo.gl/cu5LDW)?

Estas dos interrogantes, después de la reciente visita a Turquía del jefe de las fuerzas militares conjuntas de Estados Unidos, general Joseph F. Dunford Jr. (http://goo.gl/CY0iuY), no tendrán respuesta inmediata, ya que el presidente Erdogan no ha quemado las naves militares ni financieras con Occidente cuando la lira turca se ha revaluado en forma antigravitatoria (http://goo.gl/xQOsOl), mientras se considera nombrar como vicegobernador del Banco Central de Turquía a Emrah Sener, anterior banquero de Citigroup y HSBC formado en la London School of Economics (http://goo.gl/D9tpBM). ¡Demasiadas concesiones financieras!

Insisto: una de las mayores vulnerabilidades a corto plazo de Erdogan son las finanzas y la economía muy dependientes de Occidente.

Turquía ha pedido un precio muy alto para EU: la extradición de Gulen, presunto agente de la CIA (http://goo.gl/Ahv2KU).

La prensa rusa considera que la nueva amistad de Rusia y Turquía “cambian el orden político en Medio Oriente (http://goo.gl/JLACm0)” y “envía un fuerte mensaje a EU y la OTAN (http://goo.gl/ffld1k)”, mientras Stratfor, la CIA empresarial, juzga que “adelante habrá más puntos donde colisionen los intereses nacionales de Rusia y Turquía (https://goo.gl/SXkRPx)”.

En favor del nuevo triángulo geopolítico abona la fructífera visita del canciller iraní, Yavad Zarif, a Ankara, donde saludó el “deshielo de las relaciones entre Turquía y Rusia (http://goo.gl/sxXFsE)”.

Falta ver los alcances de la cooperación de Turquía e Irán en el contencioso sirio (http://goo.gl/qPkY6j).

Un enorme escollo a la concretización del triángulo geopolítico Rusia/Turquía/Irán será el devenir del régimen sirio, lo cual se reflejará en la batalla del destino que se escenifica en Alepo y donde colisionan, todavía, los intereses de Turquía con Irán y Rusia, tomando en cuenta que tampoco los intereses de Teherán y Moscú son calcados y son perturbados por el factor kurdo.

Curioso: el acercamiento entre la sunita Turquía y la chiíta Irán se ha dado como consecuencia tanto del alejamiento de ambos con Obama como a su acercamiento con Putin.


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Bajo la Lupa

 Descrédito de los think tanks de EU: cabilderos de trasnacionales, según NYT

Alfredo Jalife-Rahme

El presidente estadunidense, Barack Obama, durante una conferencia de prensa en el Pentágono, el jueves pasadoFoto Ap
Quienes ignoran la profundidad de los íntimos lazos pecuniarios en Estados Unidos (EU) entre sus trasnacionales y sus no lucrativos (¡supersic!) think tankssacralizados –pretenciosos centros oraculares de pensamiento con máscara académica– se suelen postrar al estilo reptil ante sus hallazgos que, en realidad, están cocinados de antemano debido a la obligada orientación ideológica de los espurios donativos de sus interesados benefactores.

Inside Job, documental laureado con un Oscar, ya había demolido a los seudoacadémicos economistas de altas polendas, lubricados por los banksters de Wall Street, quienes habían ocultado la gravedad de la crisis financiera que estalló en 2008 (https://goo.gl/Uy63gm).

NYT y The New England Center for Investigative Reporting publicaron una reciente serie de dos artículos sobre el flagrante conflicto de intereses entre los think tanks y las trasnacionales de EU (http://goo.gl/Q9KQ4n).

Del primer artículo, Hannah Gold hace una espléndida síntesis: los “ think tanks promueven agendas de las trasnacionales a cambio de donativos (http://goo.gl/0d5ulC)”.

Los donativos están exentos de impuestos y, al final de cuentas, los think tanks constituyen unos vulgares cabilderos (lobistas), para no decir proxenetas ideológicos, que padecen la hipoteca mental de las contribuciones envenenadas de vulgar compraventa.

La investigación se centró en los “lazos financieros entre la Brookings Institution, próspero think tank con sede en Washington, y la empresa Lennar, una de las mayores constructoras de casas de EU”.

A cambio de su validación (sic) pública del proyecto de bienes raíces en San Francisco, Brookings recibió 400 mil dólares de Lennar como donativos.

No se salvan los otros think tankscomo AEI, CSIS y Atlantic Concil (lubricada por Fedex), en temas tan variados como ventas de armas a países foráneos, comercio internacional, manejo de sistemas de autopistas (sic) y desarrollos inmobiliarios cuando a menudo se han vuelto vehículos para la influencia de las trasnacionales y sus campañas mercadotécnicas, rezuma Hannah Gold.

La senadora Elizabeth Warren inculpa que las trasnacionales gigantes invierten pocas decenas de millones de dólares a cambio de influir en los resultados en Washington con los que descuelgan miles de millones de dólares, lo que pone en la picota la narrativa de los ejecutivos de los think tanks, los cuales alegan que su investigación es objetiva y académica (sic).

Otros donadores de Brookings son el mayor banco estadunidense, JP Morgan Chase (con la mayor contribución histórica), KKR (http://goo.gl/C1Orvn) –firma israelí-estadunidense global de inversiones manejada por el ex director de la CIA general David Petraeus y el ex

Llama la atención que la investigación se haya concentrado solamente en las lubricaciones deshonestas de Brookings donde aparecen 90 empresas: desde Alcoa, pasando por General Electric, hasta el banco Wells Fargo.

Nada casualmente NYT exime de su escrutinio a los pletóricos think tanks israelí-estadunidenses vinculados a Aipac y que traslapan sus intereses con los otros mil 835 (¡supersic!) centros de EU.

En su segunda entrega (http://goo.gl/1KMQvo), NYT desnuda a los seudoinvestigadores de 75 think tanks y su papel dual, quienes han trabajado simultáneamente (sic) como cabilderos registrados, miembros de los consejos de administración de las trasnacionales y consultores foráneos en litigios y en disputas de regulación, que tienen por objetivo ayudar a reconfigurar la política del gobierno.

Resalta el israelí-estadunidense Roger Zakheim, del think tank AEI y cabildero del Pentágono para Northrop Grumman, vinculado a BlackRock (http://goo.gl/QAElJH) y, sobre todo, hijo del siniestro rabino (literal) y anterior contralor del Pentágono Dov Shlomo Zakheim –del grupo de los Vulcanos de Condy Rice, ex asesora de Seguridad Nacional de Baby Bush (http://goo.gl/P5dJNC)–, quien fue imputado de haber birlado la estratosférica suma de 2.3 billones de dólares (http://goo.gl/uHOlc0). ¡Ya robarle al Pentágono!

Dejo en el tintero la perturbadora entrega del NYT de hace dos años “Las potencias extranjeras compran influencia en los think tanks(http://goo.gl/j2eiX5)”.

El portal The Best Schools selecciona a los “50 más importantes think tanks de EU (http://goo.gl/33Zm3e)”, donde aparecen en forma forzada los polémicos Human Rights Watch (http://goo.gl/0yt02f) y Open Society Foundation (http://goo.gl/vQ1ZjW), teledirigidos por el cruel megaespeculador con máscara de filántropo George Soros, presunto hombre de paja de los banqueros esclavistas Rothschild.

Expongo el mapa de Muckety de algunos de los más influyentes think tanks de EU: Consejo de Relaciones Exteriores (CFR, por sus siglas en inglés), vinculado al antimexicano ITAM (http://goo.gl/4b225j) y a bancos, petroleras, aseguradoras, vendedoras de armas, farmaceúticas, Reserva Federal, etcétera; Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (http://goo.gl/gZKV9c), donde brillan Kissinger y Brzezinski, ex asesores de Seguridad Nacional, además de Bill Gates, General Electric, Ford, Banco Mundial etcétera; American Enterprise Institute (AEI), ligado al ex vicepresidente Dick Cheney, los neoconservadores straussianos y Obama (http://goo.gl/38DZDF); CATO Institute (http://goo.gl/Y1wwXz); RAND Corporation, ligada a la Fundación Rockefeller, y al que los rusos colocan en el primer sitial (http://goo.gl/zCO8aN); Aspen Institute, muy activo en el “México neoliberal itamita”, donde destacan Google y Bloomberg (http://goo.gl/oJXEkz); Brookings Institution, donde destellan AT&T y Microsoft (http://goo.gl/bYnBRb); Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, vinculado a Harvard y al secretario del Pentágono Ashton Carter (http://goo.gl/YjWGGY); Heritage Foun­dation, ligado a Searle y al feroz comentarista Sean Hannity, de Fox News (http://goo.gl/a2dDyG); Center for American Progress, donde brillan Soros, Bank of America, Deloitte, Northrop, Walmart, Facebook, Time, Coca Cola, Apple, Visa y Blackstone (http://goo.gl/o1t7kv); Woodrow Wilson Center (http://goo.gl/bq3A19); Hoover Institution (http://goo.gl/ArxYPL); Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, vinculado a ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Pentágono, Departamento de Estado, Departamento de Energía, General Motors (http://goo.gl/7b2TIS), y Atlantic Council (http://goo.gl/ZbJBV6).

Los think tanks del “México neoliberal itamita” que alaba EU por convenir a los intereses unilaterales de sus trasnacionales –Comexi, Ceesp, IMCO, Cidac, Transparencia (sic) Mexicana (un seudópodo de la CIA, según Red Voltaire:(http://goo.gl/uum8BR): ¡todos los que promovieron la entrega del petróleo a las empresas anglosajonas!– son de carcajada y no resisten el análisis: guetos de propaganda barata de la plutocracia local/israelí/estadunidense. ¿Cuáles son los criterios de (s)elección? ¡Sepa Dios!

Obvio: no aparecen los centros de la UNAM ni la UAM ni el Poli, donde están concentrados los máximos pensadores del México profundo.


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Russia: Exporting Influence, One Nuclear Reactor at a Time


  • Global demand for alternative energy, including nuclear power, will grow in spite of past nuclear disasters.
  • Russia will expand nuclear power exports as a part of its strategy to garner global political influence through energy production.
  • Contract conditions will allow Russia to prolong its presence in geopolitically important countries, especially under the “build, own, operate” model for constructing nuclear facilities.
  • Moscow will compete with Beijing for market space, especially in areas that require financing in order to achieve nuclear power goals.


On a spring day in 1986, an explosion and subsequent fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, near the Belarusian border — then part of the Soviet Union — projected a plume of radioactive material into the sky. Nearly 30 years later, an exclusion zone with a radius of roughly 30-kilometers (18.6-miles) is still enforced. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to construct updated containment facilities to stem further contamination. The catastrophic accident was the result of a flawed reactor design and lapsed safety protocols, and the incident severely damaged the reputation of Soviet (now Russian) nuclear power production. In fact, the Russian nuclear sector — now led by state-owned company Rosatom — may never fully escape the ghost of Chernobyl, though the global memory of the incident is fading into history.

In 2010, Rosatom announced ambitious plans for growth, thereby expanding Russia’s role in the international nuclear community. But before it could fulfill these aspirations, another catastrophic nuclear accident occurred — the only other recorded Level 7 disaster on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. A tsunami in 2011 severely damaged the facilities of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing a meltdown. The world once again became wary of nuclear energy. China temporarily suspended approvals for new power plants. Japan shut down all nuclear reactors in the country and stopped producing nuclear power for two years. Germany also still plans to phase out all nuclear power production by 2022.

As with past nuclear accidents, however, the stigma is beginning to lift and plans for nuclear expansion that may have been hindered by social backlash are beginning to regain ground. With the U.N. climate talks just around the corner, numerous countries seeking to meet emissions targets could seek to exploit nuclear energy — a proven clean energy source. China, now basically self-sufficient in terms of nuclear power production, has resumed its ambitious targets to expand domestic capacity and is building on existing knowledge of Western designs. However, China does not plan to remain just self-sufficient and aspires to export nuclear technology in the near future. But by the time Beijing reaches that point, Russia is hoping to have cornered the market on nuclear exports, especially to countries with no prior experience with nuclear power.

Russia’s Nuclear Ambitions

Rosatom’s stated, if not intangible, goals in 2010 have gained traction over the past several years. At the end of 2013, Rosatom’s foreign orders totaled $74 billion. In September 2015, Rosatom estimated the value of export orders reached $300 billion with 30 plants in 12 counties. In addition, Russia has memorandums of cooperation and deals at various stages of negotiation across the globe. From South Africa to Argentina to Vietnam to Hungary to Saudi Arabia, there appears to be no region where Russia does not seek to send its nuclear exports.

Russia is no novice when it comes to using energy exports for political gain — see Russian natural gas exports to Europe. But as the game of pipelines continues in Europe, Russia is in a bitter standoff with the United States. In Russia’s political chess strategy, numerous pieces are currently in motion. Economic pressure to lift sanctions seems to be hastening de-escalation in the Ukraine conflict. Meanwhile, Moscow is strengthening its presence in Syria through its more aggressive military stance. With hydrocarbon exports vulnerable, especially at times of low oil prices, exporting nuclear technology can provide Russia with another means of exerting influence. Nuclear power may never become as important as hydrocarbons, but it does provide a measure of political insurance as Russia attempts to maintain its global heft.

Russia’s nuclear sector did not face the same cutbacks that other energy sectors did because of sanctions. And throughout 2014 and 2015, Rosatom blazed a path toward several agreements favorable to expanding its nuclear power interests. Many of these areas of possible expansion are in geopolitically important countries, from Moscow’s perspective.

Middle East: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran

In March 2015, the Jordanian government signed a $10 billion agreement that will allow Russia to build two nuclear reactors in the country by 2022. Unlike Syria, Jordan cannot provide Russia with a Mediterranean port. Still, a solid relationship with Jordan through nuclear power cooperation helps Russia keep a foothold in the Levant, regardless of the outcome of the Syrian civil war.

Furthermore, as the world anticipates Iran’s return to the global community once Western sanctions are lifted, the region is also preparing for the continued development of Tehran’s civilian nuclear program. Russia consequently signed a framework deal in June 2015 with Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s regional rival. Riyadh is eager to grow its nuclear sector, which is now only in the early stages, to 16 reactors over the course of the next 20 years. And Russia, naturally, is more than willing to help meet this goal.

Yet despite emerging cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Russia also wants to maintain a presence in Iran. Iran signed a construction contract with Russia to expand its Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in 2014, and Moscow will not eliminate nuclear cooperation it has already established. Iran, however, could become the first battleground between China and Russia in terms of nuclear exports because Beijing has agreed to construct two plants in the southern Iran.

Europe: Hungary and Finland

One of Moscow’s geopolitical imperatives is to have clout in Eastern Europe to ensure the security of the Russian core, a strategy especially evident during the Cold War. Hungary, once behind the Iron Curtain, is now part of the European Union. But growing anti-European sentiment in the country could provide Russia the opportunity to gain a better foothold there. Rosatom was selected to expand Hungary’s Paks Nuclear Power Plant facility despite European objections.

Finland, on Russia’s northern border, also ignored EU objections and agreed to have Rosatom come in to build a nuclear power plant in the north. Given last year’s rumblings about Sweden and Finland possibly joining NATO and how close Finland’s borders are to St. Petersburg, Russia will remain vigilant in maintaining its influence in Helsinki.

Rest of the World

Moscow’s nuclear export campaign has also touched the rest of the world. South Africa has a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Russia. Rosatom is believed to be one of the leading candidates, along with China, to build a new nuclear plant in the country, which has seen recent blackouts due to insufficient power. Elsewhere on the African continent, Ghana and Nigeria are also potential sites for future Russian-built nuclear power plants.

Russia’s push east for energy exports is not limited to hydrocarbons to China. Rather, several Southeast Asian countries — Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia — have signed either agreements for construction of plants or at least memorandums of cooperation for nuclear power.

Finally, the export of nuclear power facilities follows Russia’s broader plan of investing in Latin America. Moscow could potentially cooperate with countries for the mutual goal of countering U.S. influence in the region. Still, Russia and China could compete directly to bring nuclear power to the continent, undermining that goal.

Russia’s Secret Weapon

Plans and ambitions are all well and good, but as Russia moves from the planning stages into actual construction and operation, we will see the true success of the scheme. Russia’s economic downturn has made Western experts skeptical of Moscow’s ability to finance all of these contracts. But Russia has beaten out Western firms because of more attractive financing in the past. U.S.-based firms have been further disadvantaged by the suspension of the Export-Import Bank’s charter on June 30. While reinstating the Export-Import bank could come to a vote later this month, Russia’s financial flexibility should continue to give it an edge. Some countries such as China and Iran pay for Russian power plants directly. Others such as Belarus, Bangladesh and Hungary depend on favorable loans. Jordan brought in Chinese banks to finance roughly 30 percent of its project in addition to the Rosatom’s 35 percent share, and India has certainly benefited from Russian finance.

High initial capital requirements are often a deterrent to adopting nuclear power, but Rosatom and its subsidiaries claim to have brought down development costs substantially. Requirements of a nuclear facility are site specific, meaning that each facility is unique. Repetitive production could drive down cost and while Rosatom does not exactly construct identical nuclear power plants, they do claim that the use of 3-D smart models has significantly increased speed of work, driving down their initial costs.

Ultimately, it is a new business model that gives Russia the edge, one in which Russia builds, owns and operates the facility, as well as provides training and education. This alone could see Rosatom winning more bids, especially in countries with no previous nuclear experience. Turkey, poised to be an important transit state for Russian natural gas, will serve as a proving ground for the build, own, operate model. The geopolitical implications are obvious, as the model gives Russia a more permanent foothold in the country than just building the facility or importing the material would.

Russia’s desire for a global nuclear presence, however, will have to overcome several hurdles. Russian firms will continue to compete with Western ones in the near future, as well as Chinese producers in the coming years. South Africa is also an example of a country in which the build, own, operate model could fail, the big question being who will pay. While the Russian model may be attractive for Pretoria, which is not able to independently provide the capital for such facilities up front, it still requires the potential for a return on investment for Rosatom. South Africa has a poor track record of having consumers pay and that could prove a sticking point for its Russian partnership. Russia’s own financial situation, while it has not yet hurt Rosatom, could eventually limit Moscow’s ability to offer attractive financing options. But even with these obstacles, much like natural gas before it, nuclear power is only poised to augment Russia’s global influence.

Why Russian Society Should Pay More Attention to Kremlin’s Foreign Policy

Op-Ed  July 21, 2016 Russia Direct
Russian society should pay more attention to the Kremlin’s foreign policy agenda and have a better understanding of the nation’s actions abroad. Russia should identify itself as a Euro-Pacific country rather than a Eurasian country as it seeks out new opportunities to become better integrated in the globalized world.

Russia Direct sat down with Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, to discuss his recent book, “Russia and the World in the 21st Century,” which attempts to make Russian foreign policy more accessible to the general public. As Trenin explains, Russian society should pay more attention to the Kremlin’s foreign policy agenda and have a better understanding of the nation’s actions abroad.

According to Trenin, Russia should identify itself as a Euro-Pacific country rather than a Eurasian country as it seeks out new opportunities to become better integrated in the globalized world. Trenin also sheds light on the reasons why Russia and the West have historically failed to see eye-to-eye despite numerous attempts at partnership. While presenting the key flaws of Russia’s foreign policy, he also outlines the drawbacks of the Western approaches toward Russia.

Russia Direct: Your recent book looks like an invitation for Russian society to have a dialogue about the nation’s foreign policy. Some sociologists, including Alexei Levinson from Levada Center, argue that the level of understanding of international relations in Russia is very low, which is the reason why the Kremlin is successful in imposing its foreign policy agenda on people. Do you agree?

Dmitri Trenin: Yes, I do agree with this opinion. To a certain extent this trend is common for the majority of modern societies. Until recently, most people have had neither enough information nor the capability to assess it properly. Today the situation is different – there is a great deal of information today, but few can understand it.In addition, because both democratic and authoritarian societies are currently based on public opinion to a large extent, it means that one should persuade people that any regime, be it authoritative or democratic, acts in favor of these people. It is easier to win support from people in foreign policy than in domestic policy because people are less aware about international relations. At least, until they feel the implications of a country’s foreign policy on their day-to-day life. Second, foreign policy deals with very sensitive national feelings that involve emotions and easily bring people together around a national leader.

That’s why foreign policy is a field that few comprehend and interpret well. There is the lack of understanding and this increases opportunities for public opinion manipulation not only in authoritarian countries, but also in democratic ones. Regarding Russia, the capabilities of the authorities to manipulate public opinion on the problems of foreign policy is phenomenal in this regard. The events in Ukraine and Syria, which happened over the last two years, show that the Russian government has the most successful and effective tools of foreign policy propaganda within the country.

RD: To what extent do Russian politicians understand the country’s foreign policy?

D.T.: As a very sophisticated field, foreign policy should be thoroughly elaborated and understood by the Russian political elite — those who have the chance to play a leading role in different fields of the country, be it science, business or politics. These people should know foreign policy better than society in general.

However, it is not the case in Russia. There are a lot of problems here. Unfortunately, the [patriotic] frenzy, which has been spreading throughout Russian society for the last few years, turns many members of the Russian elite into the hostages of their own propaganda campaign.

In my view, it is very dangerous because, with the lack of critical thinking in dealing with very sophisticated problems, it is easy to commit serious mistakes that will lead to almost irreversible consequences. Most importantly, the current elites are not able to respond to unpredictable events and even weigh the most dangerous risks for the country.

RD: So, who is the audience of your book — the Kremlin?

D.T.: No, I don’t address it to the Russian top decision-makers, because they know what they do and seem to be reluctant to listen to advice. In fact, they don’t need advisors. First and foremost, I am addressing my book to the citizens of Russia, to people with a well-developed understanding of their social and civic responsibilities.

I mean those who think about the future of Russia. My audience includes those who are seen as the intelligentsia in a broader perspective, who are doing primarily intellectual work. They are not necessarily experts in foreign policy, but they have to think hard due to their professional commitments.

Secondly, I wrote this book for young professionals and students who think globally and seek to get knowledge that is based not on propagandistic clichés, but also facts and well-balanced analysis. In addition, I target those involved in politics, including deputies and their assistants.

Importantly, this book is not for my colleagues and foreign policy experts. My task is to popularize the topic of foreign policy among Russian citizens with an active position in civic society – those who might determine the direction of where the society should go and how it should develop.

RD: In your book, you write, “From the point of view of potential foreign policy factors, the Pacific Ocean for Russia is something like the Baltic in the 18th century.” Could you clarify this idea?

D.T.: Well, the Baltic of the 18th century was the road to the country’s modernization. Peter the Great was cutting a window to Europe through the Baltic to get access to Europe’s technology and innovations without involving any other transit states. At that time, Russia was cut off from progressive Europe by Sweden on the Northwest, by Poland on the West, and Turkey on the Southwest, so there were many obstacle and problems. In fact, Russia didn’t have access to seas and had to go either to the southern town of Azov or to the northern Gulf of Finland and further to the Baltic.

Today, in order to become a modern 21st century country, Russia needs to get access to the most recent state-of-the-art technologies and practices, which are available today mostly in the area of the Pacific Ocean. That’s why I see Russia as a Euro-Pacific country, not as a Euro-Asian one.

I am focusing more on the area of the Pacific Ocean that includes both Asian and Western cities — Singapore and Shanghai, Japan with its high-tech production and San Francisco with its Silicon Valley as well as Australia and Canada, two countries that have an economic structure that is similar to Russia.

In addition, turning to the Pacific Ocean area will strengthen the eastern part of Russia and make it robust and active, which is very important given that our western part has always been well developed. It is a matter of rebalancing our power and resources [from the West to the East], in my view. However, being a Euro-Pacific country also means that Russia should not turn its back on the West.

RD: As mentioned in your book, geopolitical victories weaken countries and make them less focused, while losses usually force them to be more prudent, persistent and persevere. If one applies this logic to Russia, it will be easy to see that its policy in Ukraine is a failure, while its Syrian military campaign seems to have been relatively successful. So, in this situation will Russia be able to maintain its successes and, at the same time, learn lessons from its previous mistakes?

D.T.: First and foremost, it is too early to talk about successes in Syria, because Russia’s campaign there is not over. In my view, Russia’s participation in the Syrian war is just the first episode in a very long saga about Islamic extremism.

It seems to me that Russia is training and improving its military and political skills in Syria; it also learns how to deal with religious and ethnic challenges, which might be useful for Russia in the near future or even beyond — somewhere in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. There is a great deal of potential problems there. And Russia will have to deal with these problems.

It seems obvious that the 15-year participation of the West in the war in Afghanistan failed to bring stability in this country. It still remains the source of tensions. Also, keep in mind that Afghanistan borders former Soviet republics, which are going through a very difficult period of time: We don’t actually know what is happening there beneath the surface somewhere in the Fergana Valley [a region located in Central Asia that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan – Editor’s note].

The recent shooting in the town of the city of Aktobe in Kazakhstan in June is a warning sign, given it is very close to the Russian border. What will happen there in the future we don’t really know, because we are living in another reality, we are thinking in the categories of the Soviet past in our perception of what is going on in Central Asia. In fact, we don’t know well this region.

But security problems might emerge very soon, given the fact that we don’t have a well-protected border with Central Asian countries. It’s a matter of unpredictability. If we don’t know how to stabilize Central Asia, we will lose.

RD: Well, will Russia’s experience in Ukraine and Syria drive those in the Kremlin to reassess their entire foreign policy and look at it soberly?

D.T.: Unfortunately, Russia lost its capability to think critically. If we switch on television or radio today and listen to current discussions, it won’t be a big surprise to find among the speakers both those who can provide ostensibly well-balanced analysis and those who resemble vocal campaigners [for a certain cause] with a mental disorder. Sometimes such people take top positions in government.

And this is a very alarming sign, to tell the truth. It seems to me that they stop understanding that they live in a different reality and it is not a game at all. It is not alarming as long as only one person in the country takes foreign policy decisions and what these pundits try to convey doesn’t necessarily reflect what the president really thinks. But in the long term it could be dangerous. I am very concerned with the competence of our political elites. To put it mildly, I am not sure that our elite in its current state is able to respond effective to the current foreign policy challenges.

RD: In your book you describe three rounds of Russian presidents: Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. Their presidential tenures have followed the same trend: All of them started their presidency with improvement of Moscow’s relations with the West, but ended up with slight deterioration at best or harsh confrontation (and a new Cold War) at worst. Can you account for this cyclical trend objectively?

D.T.: Objectively, it is very difficult to explain. Let’s go back to Mikhail Gorbachev’s presidency. In the case of his tenure, it was vice versa. He started with a tough political course toward America, which he saw as a key adversary. But in four years he ended up establishing a partnership with Washington: Russia became a junior partner of the U.S. under Gorbachev.

His motto, which he tried to stick to firmly during the war in the Persian Gulf, added up to the following statement: We should not fall out with America. If you compare it with his early rhetoric when he became General Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee in 1985, there will be a big difference. At that time, the major task for Gorbachev was to stop being involved in the arms race, which had deleterious effects on the Soviet economy. So, it was a totally different direction.

Coming back to Yeltsin, he — like Putin and Medvedev — tried to establish close ties with the West, based on trust and sincerity, when they came to power. Putin was the most active president, who sought to foster credibility with the West in the beginning of his first presidential tenure. Likewise, Medvedev — under supervision of Putin — tried to reset Moscow’s relations with the West. However, all these attempts were futile and the other side didn’t respond to Russia’s initiatives with the same reciprocity, which the Kremlin expected. And disappointment came shortly after.

The problem stems from the Russian mentality. Russians have one national trait, which is not compatible with the pragmatic logic of international relations. As a nation, we perceive a person (or a state) either as a friend or as an enemy: There is not anything in between. We find it difficult to take a middle-of-the-road position. This is in contrast to the Chinese, for example. It is really difficult for Russians to establish a pragmatic, coldly rational and working relationship with others. I mean relations that are neither hostile nor friendly.

Russia-Turkey relations are a good example. Before November 24, 2015, Moscow trusted Turkey and couldn’t even imagine that it could stab it in the back: there was personal chemistry between Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, their relations reached a historic low when Russia broke economic and political ties with Turkey in the blink of an eye after the downing of the Russian jet by Ankara.

Here is another example: We seek cooperation with NATO to fight together against joint challenges, but if the Alliance is reluctant and not ready to establish such cooperation with us for objective reasons, we change our mind and start seeing NATO as a threat. We are less sophisticated in our attitude toward the world than the pragmatic West, which is neither cold nor hot. We tend either to unite with somebody or fall out abruptly.

RD: However there might another explanation why Russia and the West cannot establish longstanding friendly relations: The West’s expectations about Russia are too high; when these expectations don’t come true, the West becomes disappointed. With the disappointment comes a new decline in their relations. The U.S. pinned a lot of hopes on Russia’s emerging democracy or the reset, but when both failed Washington changed its attitude toward Moscow.

D.T.: Yes, the West has own problems in its perception of Russia. It was naïve about Russia, but in its own way. In fact, the West expected Russia to become like all other countries [of the post-Soviet space], which would follow the rules advocated by the West. It wants Moscow to act in accordance with the principles of Western policy and behave itself on the international arena. This requires observing certain norms.

Other than that, the West does not express a great interest toward Russia, partly because economically it is not in good shape. This is one of the reasons why the West doesn’t see Russia as an equal. What also does matter for the West is the quality of institutions, which Russia lacks. That’s also one of the reasons why it cannot find common ground with Moscow.

This interview originally appeared in Russia Direct.

Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has been with the center since its inception. He also chairs the research council and the Foreign and Security Policy Program.

Dmitri Trenin

More from this author…

Read more at: http://carnegie.ru/2016/07/21/why-russian-society-should-pay-more-attention-to-kremlin-s-foreign-policy/j36u

Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle

Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle

Author: Danielle Renwick, Copy Editor/Writer



Tens of thousands of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans, many of them unaccompanied minors, have arrived in the United States in recent years, seeking asylum from the region’s skyrocketing violence. Their countries, which form a region known as the Northern Triangle, were rocked by civil wars in the 1980s, leaving a legacy of violence and fragile institutions. However, recent developments in Guatemala and Honduras have spurred talk of a “Central American spring” as protesters in both countries have come out in unprecedented numbers to denounce corruption and demand greater accountability from their leaders.

How many people have left the Northern Triangle in recent years?

Nearly 10 percent of the Northern Triangle countries’ thirty million residents have left, mostly for the United States. In 2013, as many as 2.7 million people born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were living in the United States, up from an estimated 1.5 million people in 2000. Nearly one hundred thousand unaccompanied minors arrived to the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras between October 2013 and July 2015, drawing attention to the region’s broader emigration trend. At the United States’ urging, Mexico stepped up enforcement along its southern border, apprehending 70 percent more Central Americans in 2015 than it did in the year before.

Many seek asylum from violence at home: Between 2009 and 2013, the United States registered a sevenfold increase (PDF) in asylum seekers at its southern border, 70 percent of whom came from the Northern Triangle. Neighboring Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama all registered a similar rise. Migrants from all three Northern Triangle countries cite violence, forced gang recruitment, extortion, as well as poverty and lack of opportunity, as their reasons for leaving.

Why are so many people fleeing the Northern Triangle?

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. Gang-related violence in El Salvador brought its homicide rate to ninety per hundred thousand in 2015, making it the most world’s most violent countrynot at war. All three countries have significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Extortion is also rampant. A July 2015 investigation by Honduran newspaper La Prensafound that Salvadorans and Hondurans pay an estimated $390 million and $200 million, respectively, in annual extortion fees to organized crime groups; meanwhile, Guatemalan authorities said in 2014 that citizens pay an estimated $61 million a year in extortion fees. Extortionists primarily target public transportation operators, small businesses, and residents of poor neighborhoods, according to the report, and attacks on people who do not pay contributes to the violence. Guatemala’s transportation sector has been hit especially hard: In 2014, more than four hundred transportation workers were killed, and authorities linked most of those cases to extortion.

What is causing the violence?

The nature of the violence is distinct in each country, but there are common threads: the proliferation of gangs, the region’s use as a transshipment point for U.S.-bound narcotics, and high rates of impunity are major factors contributing to insecurity in the region.

A CFR special report in 2012 said organized crime is a clear legacy of the region’s decades of war. In El Salvador, fighting between the military-led government and leftist guerrilla groups (1979–92) left as many as seventy-five thousand dead, and Guatemala’s civil war (1960–96) killed as many as two-hundred thousand civilians. Honduras did not have a civil war of its own, but nonetheless felt the effects of its neighbors’ conflicts; it served as a staging ground for U.S.-backed Contras, a right-wing rebel group fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government during the 1980s. Organized crime grew following these civil wars, particularly in El Salvador, where war produced a “large pool of demobilized and unemployed men with easy access to weapons,” according to the CFR report. In Guatemala, groups known as illegal armed groups and clandestine security apparatuses, grew out of state intelligence and military forces.

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world.

Organized crime in the Northern Triangle includes transnational criminal organizations, many of which are associated with Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs); domestic organized-crime groups; transnational gangs, or maras, such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18); and pandillas, or street gangs.

MS-13 and M-18, the region’s largest gangs, may have as many as eighty-five thousand members combined (PDF). Both were formed in Los Angeles: M-18 in the 1960s by Mexican youth, and MS-13 in the 1980s by Salvadorans who had fled the civil war. Their presence in Central America grew in the mid-1990s following large-scale deportations from the United States of undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

DTOs, maras, and pandillas “should be understood as different phenomena,” says Michael Shifter, author of the CFR report and president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. Lack of state capacity and governments’ inability to protect citizens, he says, “are conditions that lend themselves to the emergence and strengthening of violent actors. Some of them involved in the drug trade, some are not.”  In addition to the drug trade and extortion, criminal groups in the region also engage in kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking and smuggling.

Location along drug-trafficking routes adds to the violence. U.S.-led interdiction efforts in Colombia, Mexico, and the Caribbean have pushed trafficking routes into the region, and U.S. officials report that 80 percent of documented drug flows (PDF) into the United States now pass through Central America. DTOs sometimes partner with maras to transport and distribute narcotics, sparking turf wars (PDF), according a Congressional Research Service report.

Why has violence lasted so long?

Weak, underfunded institutions, combined with corruption, have undermined efforts to address gang violence and extortion. Tax revenues as percentage of GDP in the Northern Triangle are among the lowest in Latin America, exacerbating inequality and straining public services. Transparency International, a global anticorruption NGO, ranks all three countries low on its corruption perceptions index. Honduran institutions remain particularly shaky following a 2009 coup—Latin America’s first in nearly two decades—that ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

As many as 95 percent of crimes go unpunished (PDF) in some areas, and the public has little trust in the police and security forces. (The police and military were accused of widespread human rights abuses during El Salvador and Guatemala’s civil wars.) Cynthia Arnson and Eric Olson of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program write that efforts to reform and professionalize police forces during the two countries’ peace processes were “incomplete (PDF).”

“There has been so much penetration of the state and so much criminal involvement in security forces, it makes it difficult to think about how they would [reform] without some outside intervention,” Olson says.

How have Northern Triangle countries tried to stop the violence?

In the early 2000s, Northern Triangle governments enacted a series of “mano dura,” or “heavy hand,” policies that expanded police powers and enacted harsher punishments for gang members. Around the same time, military personnel were deployed (PDF) to carry out police functions.

Though popular (PDF), these tougher policies in most cases failed to reduce crime and may have indirectly led to a growth in gang membership. Mass incarcerations increased the burden on already overcrowded prisons, where gangs, which effectively run many of them, recruited thousands of new members. The U.S. State Department, human rights groups, and journalists have raised concerns about the policies, denouncing prison conditions and police violence against civilians. Overcrowding in prisons drew international attention in 2012, when a prison fire in Comayagua, Honduras, killed more than three hundred inmates.

In 2012, in a departure from traditional hard-line policies, officials in Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes’ administration helped to broker a truce between the MS-13 and M-18 gangs. Homicides fell by more than 40 percent that year. Despite the reduction in violence between the gangs, critics charged that crime against civilians such as extortion continued unabated. When the peace deal unraveled two years later, killings surged.

Weak, underfunded institutions, combined with corruption, have undermined efforts to address gang violence and extortion.

Under pressure from the United States following the 2014 surge in migration, the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, together with the Inter-American Development Bank, created the Alliance for Prosperity (PDF), a five-year, $20 billion plan to boost economic growth, promote job creation and training, improve public safety, and strengthen institutions. The Northern Triangle leaders pledged to fund 80 percent of it, yet it is uncertain whether their legislatures will approve the funding.

Guatemala has seen important gains thanks in part to an independent body created by the UN in 2007 to investigate and prosecute criminal groups “believed to have infiltrated state institutions.” The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) grew out of the country’s 1994 Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights. Between 2009 and 2012, impunity levels fell (PDF) from 95 percent to 72 percent, according to CICIG, and in 2015 the tribunal worked with Guatemala’s attorney general on an investigation into a customs corruption scheme that led to the ouster and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina.  In a sign of disillusionment with Guatemala’s political class, voters in fall 2015 elected Jimmy Morales, a comedian with no political experience, over more established candidates.

In Honduras, allegations that members of the ruling National Party embezzled social-security funds, has led protesters to call for the ouster of President Juan Orlando Hernández. Anticorruption activists and U.S. State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon have called for institutions similar to CICIG to be created in El Salvador and Honduras, a proposal top officials in both countries have rejected. The Organization of American States announced plans in September to create an anticorruption body in Honduras, but critics say it will only have a limited advisory role, making it “toothless.”

What has been the regional impact of the violence?

The regional impact is mostly felt in continued ouflows of people. The United States and Mexico have apprehended more than one million Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran migrants since 2010, according to Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank. Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama have also reported a sharp increase in inflows from the Northern Triangle since 2008.

Gang violence has mostly been contained within the region, although MS-13 and M-18 have a presence in the United States and Mexico. The U.S. Treasury Department, which in 2015 sanctioned three MS-13 leaders, estimates there are eight thousand MS-13 members in the United States, and in 2013, Mexico’s justice department reported on growing ties between Mexican criminal groups and Central American gangs, with as many as seventy Central American organized crime cells operating in Mexico.

How has the United States responded?

The United States has traditionally addressed violence in Central America by sending aid to the region’s law-enforcement agencies, supporting rule-of-law programs, and assisting in counternarcotics and anti-gang operations. Increasingly, U.S. initiatives also look to address the region’s challenges more broadly, including poverty and a lack of competitiveness.

Between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2015, the United States gave just over $1 billion through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), a security and rule-of-law focused aid package. CARSI grew out of the Mérida Initiative, a U.S. program to fight DTOs and organized crime in Mexico and, to a lesser extent, Central America.

Following the 2014 influx of unaccompanied minors, President Obama met with the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and acknowledged the United States’ “shared responsibility” in addressing drug trafficking and U.S. demand for narcotics. (The United States is the world’s largest market for illicit narcotics.)

Experts say U.S. gun laws and the practice of deporting criminals—between 2010 and 2012, the United States deported an estimated hundred thousand immigrants with criminal records to Northern Triangle countries—also contribute to the violence.

The Obama administration has requested $1 billion from Congress for FY2016 to support its U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America (PDF). The plan, which would represent a significant increase in annual spending in the region, focuses on security, governance, and economic development. The House Appropriations Committee recommended $296.5 million in CARSI funds; its Senate counterpart offered up to $675 million for the new strategy (PDF), according to the CRS.

“The move from CARSI to [the new strategy] reflects an evolution in thinking and an increasing appreciation for the importance of rule of law and institutions for making these aid packages successful,” says Shifter. “How it will end up is a different question.”

In January 2016, amid a new rush of arrivals from the region, U.S. authorities began to round up and deport recently arrived immigrants whose asylum claims had been denied. The Obama administration said that its aim was to deter would-be migrants. Meanwhile, the administration announced it would expand its refugee program to admit as many as nine thousand people each year from the Northern Triangle and enlist the United Nations to help screen refugee claims in Latin America.

[Editor’s Note: This Backgrounder is part of a series related to global migration issues.]


Hillary the Hawk: A History

From Haiti to Syria, the Democratic candidate’s long record suggests she’s looking forward to being a war president on day one.

Hillary the Hawk: A History

Whoever is elected on Nov. 8 will be a war president on day one, with the power and autonomy to undertake destabilizing shows of force, drone strikes, special operations raids and ever-deepening military interventions. Today, combat troop deployments are routinely made by executive branch spokespeople, decisions to back open-ended air wars in places like Yemen by “partners” like Saudi Arabia are announced via press release, and congressional oversight hearings largely boil down to legislators pleading with commanders to ask for more troops and looser rules of engagement.

And much of this probably suits Hillary Clinton just fine.

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Unlike Donald Trump, who has wildly shifting positions and alleged “secret” plans to defeat the Islamic State, Clinton has an extensive track record upon which one can evaluate her likely positions.

By any reasonable measure, Clinton qualifies as a hawk, if a nuanced one.

By any reasonable measure, Clinton qualifies as a hawk, if a nuanced one. Though she has opposed uses of force that she believed were a bad idea, she has consistently endorsed starting new wars and expanding others.Consider seven prominent situations in which she has had to decide whether to support the use of American military force:

Haiti: In 1994, Clinton opposed intervening in Haiti to reinstate the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government. As historian Taylor Branch recounted in his diary of interviews with Bill Clinton: “I asked him what Hillary thought. He said the pell-mell rush to invade was crazy to her. Reacting against the pressure, the lack of options, and his sense of being trapped, she said he was badly served by his foreign policy staff.” This was an astute judgment by the then-first lady, as the options developed by the U.S. Southern Command and Joint Chiefs were poorly conceived and often logistically impossible to carry out. Fortunately, a 25,000 U.S. troop invasion was avoided after Jimmy Carter brokered a last-minute agreement with Raoul Cédras that assured he would step down from power.

Iraq: In 2002, as a senator for New York, Clinton voted for the authorization for the use of military force in Iraq. In her accompanying floor statement, she claimed it was to ensure President George W. Bush was “in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war” and to show Saddam Hussein that the country was united. After initially defending the vote, she later adjusted, variously declaring she “thought it was a vote to put inspectors back in,” it was “based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” and ultimately “it was a mistake to trust Bush.” Clinton also justified the 2002 vote as simply one for compelling compliance, proclaiming, “I believe in coercive diplomacy,” in a January 2008 presidential debate. Regardless of the reasons or excuses behind her vote, the Iraq War was a foreign-policy and geopolitical disaster.

Pakistan: In 2007 and 2008, Clinton strongly disagreed with then-Sen. Barack Obama about striking al Qaeda targets inside of Pakistan. Obama called such attacks “just common sense” if there were “actionable intelligence.” Clinton referred to the 1998 cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan that failed to kill Osama bin Laden and warned that “we have to be very conscious of all the consequences,” particularly anything that would destabilize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Obama would go on to authorize 407 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing 3,089 people. Nearly 300 of these occurred while Clinton was secretary of state, during which time U.S. diplomats opposed only one or two of the strikes. Whatever hesitation Clinton once had in attacking militants in Pakistan vanished upon being confirmed as secretary of state.

Afghanistan: In 2009, Clinton supported three-quarters of the Afghanistan surge. When Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, requested four brigades of additional U.S. troops in the summer of 2009, Clinton endorsed deploying three of them (equaling roughly 30,000 troops). Reportedly, “Clinton usually favored sending even more [troops] than [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates did.” Obama eventually deployed 33,000 extra troops. It is hard to identify any enduring political or security gains in Afghanistan that have resulted from the surge. Moreover, more than three-quarters of all U.S. troop casualties in that country since 9/11 were killed or wounded in the four years after the surge was initiated.

Libya: In 2011, Clinton was a strong proponent of regime change in Libya (as was Trump). It is forgotten today that a primary justification she offered for the U.S. military role in Libya was to pay back allies for Afghanistan. As she stated in late March 2011: “We asked our allies, our NATO allies, to go into Afghanistan with us 10 years ago. They have been there, and a lot of them have been there despite the fact they were not attacked.… When it comes to Libya, we started hearing from the U.K., France, Italy, other of our NATO allies. This was in their vital national interest.” Academic research shows that great powers enjoy freedom of action to avoid becoming dragged into wars involving allies, but the Libya regime change intervention was, unfortunately, one that the Obama administration chose to fully support, despite misleading the American people at the time that it was not the goal. Obama correctly labeled not planning for the postwar scenario his “worst mistake” and correctly described Libya as a “mess.”

Osama bin Laden: In 2011, she endorsed the Navy SEAL raid into Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden, even while recognizing that it would likely poison diplomatic relations with Pakistan for a short time. According to Vice President Joe Biden — who opposed it — every other official (including Clinton) was “51-49” in supporting the raid. Before the news broke, Obama called Bill Clinton (who, as president, signed three covert findings authorizing bin Laden’s killing) to let him know the al Qaeda leader was finally dead. “I assume Hillary’s already told you,” Obama said to an unaware Clinton. As Hillary Clinton later wrote in her memoir: “They told me not to tell anyone, so I didn’t tell anyone. Bill later joked with me, ‘No one will ever doubt you can keep a secret!’”

Syria: In 2012, she reportedly proposed to the White House — along with CIA Director David Petraeus — a covert program (apparently larger than the one later authorized) to provide arms to vetted Syrian rebel groups fighting Bashar al-Assad’s government. Obama opposed this proposal on the grounds that there could be no guarantees of where the weapons would ultimately end up and that CIA analysts determined they would not have “materially” hastened the removal of Assad from power. It is difficult to assess the CIA-led train-and-equip program’s effectiveness, compared to larger Defense Department-led efforts, but there remains no collection of U.S.-backed rebel groups that has threatened the existence of the Assad government, which is now backed by indiscriminate Russian air power.

Outside of specific interventions, Clinton also supported muscular shows of force as secretary of state.

Outside of specific interventions, Clinton also supported muscular shows of force as secretary of state. New York Times reporter Mark Landler describes a July 2010 White House debate about rerouting the USS George Washington aircraft carrier from its normal cruise into the Yellow Sea. Adm. Robert Willard, the head of U.S. Pacific Command; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Secretary of Defense Gates all agreed on this aggressive maneuver. “Clinton strongly seconded it. ‘We’ve got to run it up the gut!’ she had said to her aides a few days earlier,” Landler writes. But Obama refused the request, declaring, “I don’t call audibles with aircraft carriers.” It bears noting that determining the aggressiveness by which the United States conducts freedom of navigation operations in maritime waters claimed by China will be a consequential call for the next president.Finally, Clinton has had an unusual exposure to the military from multiple civilian positions, which may make her far better prepared to serve as commander in chief than her husband was in 1993, when he had a notoriously difficult start leading the military. As first lady, Clinton was routinely exposed to military intervention debates among senior officials, including over Haiti, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, and later served six years on the Senate Armed Services Committee and four as secretary of state. She also has developed close relations with retired military officers like Gen. Jack Keane, who has rarely seen a country that cannot be improved with U.S. ground troops and airstrikes. As Bob Woodward wrote of a 2009 meeting between the two to discuss the Afghan surge: “Clinton greeted Keane with a bear hug, astonishing [U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard] Holbrooke because—and he should know—Hillary rarely bear-hugged anyone.”

I have spoken about Clinton with a handful of military officers, then stationed in Islamabad and Kabul, who were routinely involved in video teleconferences with her as secretary of state. They all described her as being, by far, the best-prepared senior participant in meetings and having read all the memos or briefing books that were sent as preparatory material. They relayed that Clinton has an intimate understanding of military doctrine, Pentagon acronyms, and military planning principles and was not afraid to press senior commanders to clarify the “courses of action” and the intended “end state” of any given military intervention.

Should Hillary Clinton win the White House, the United States, already at war for 15 years, would be led by a president deeply aware and comfortable with the military. It’s impossible to know which national security crises she would be forced to confront, of course. But those who vote for her should know that she will approach such crises with a long track record of being generally supportive of initiating U.S. military interventions and expanding them.

Photo credit: JILL M. DOUGHERTY/Getty Images

Hillary the Hawk: A History

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