Trump had an opportunity to redefine American foreign policy. He blew it

Donald J. Trump is home from his whirlwind weekend trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s end. Even by The Donald’s formidable china-breaking standards, this was a doozy which will be discussed with opprobrium by the Transatlantic smart set for some time.

President Trump seemed to go out of his way to upset his French counterpart and host Emmanuel Macron, who’s hit a political rough patch and needed some brotherly love. That bromance is dead and buried, however, and Trump fired off a mocking tweet at Macron as he boarded Air Force One for Paris that denounced the French president’s backing of a European army as ‘very insulting.’

This rattled the Élysée Palace yet, while Trump’s use of Twitter to conduct diplomacy was its usual silliness, the point stands. Washington has always opposed any EU army, on the sensible grounds that it will weaken NATO. Since hardly any European NATO members spend the ‘required’ two percent of GDP on defense, the notion that there’s enough cash on hand to have a viable European army while keeping the Atlantic Alliance afloat is laughable. Not to mention there are only two major EU countries that take defense seriously, fiscally and otherwise – Britain and Poland – and the former is on its way out of the Union while Brussels is doing its best to evict the latter.

Read the rest at Spectator USA …

Poland Stands Up For the West Against Russia—Again

Voltaire is supposed to have said that God is on the side of the big battalions, but there can be no denying that, even in this age of technology-driven conflict, when machines do much of the dirty work once done by men, numbers still matter in war—and in deterring it.

Here NATO has a problem, since its eastern flank includes several countries whose militaries are dwarfed in size by the neighboring Russian bear. For instance, while recent defense efforts in Estonia are impressive, that little country of not much more than a million citizens would be steamrollered by the Kremlin’s forces in the event of war, before NATO reinforcements could arrive in enough numbers to help.

The outlier is Poland, which stands guard on the Atlantic Alliance’s vulnerable eastern flank. Warsaw’s military is NATO’s bulwark against Russian aggression from the east, especially considering Poland’s border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, which houses late-model ballistic missiles aimed westward. While there is a now a modest deterrent force drawn from a across the Alliance standing watch close to Russia, including a rotational U.S. Army armored brigade in Poland, military reality dictates that the success or failure of any Kremlin aggression against NATO will be determined by Polish resistance, more than any other factor.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Outgunned U.S. Army Isn’t Prepared For War With Russia

Ever since our lopsided victory in the Gulf War in early 1991, the U.S. military has been venerated by many Americans as an unbeatable force. How rapidly our combined air-ground offensive crushed Saddam’s large yet ponderous army gave the Pentagon an aura of invincibility. Military leaders and defense thinkers proclaimed the dawn of new era in warfare. With our advanced technology and precision strikes, everything was different.

But was it? In hindsight, the Gulf War merely confirmed what military historians always knew, namely that better weaponry and command-and-control habitually crush large numbers of less well-equipped enemies. A generation on, the “lessons” of 1991 appear no more noteworthy than the “lessons” of Omdurman in Sudan in 1898, when two brigades of British regulars easily crushed a force of 50,000 jihad-fueled natives because, as the wags of the day put it, “We have got the Maxim Gun, and they have not.”

Yet since the Gulf War, the U.S. Army’s technological edge over its potential foes— what defense doyens term overmatch—has dwindled, slowly but irrevocably. Through the decade after 1991, the army was busy managing post-Cold War cutbacks and peacekeeping in the Balkans and saw no peer-competitors anywhere. Since 9/11, as plausible rivals like Russia and China have slowly come into focus, our army has been busy managing costly and ultimately futile campaigns in the Greater Middle East. Our diffident war in Afghanistan, America’s longest by a good margin, is in its 17th year, and strategic victory is now as far off as it has ever been there.

Read the rest at The Observer …

‘Idiocracy’ Come True: Even Pentagon Says Morons Are Inheriting the Earth

In a couple of weeks, Idiocracy the movie (not to be confused with: Idiocracy the American President) will celebrate twelve years since its release. Only, nobody will be celebrating, because the film appeared with zero fanfare back in 2006. The dark comedy’s edgy message—that America was doomed to a future of dystopian idiocy—was deemed too controversial for a major release a dozen years ago, and its distributor, 20th Century Fox, pretty much buried it, showing the film in only a handful of cities.

Over the past dozen years, however, Idiocracy has become a cult classic, its inevitably weak performance in cinemas notwithstanding. Its creator, Mike Judge, who has given us such pop-culture classics as King of the Hill and Office Space, now looks like a prophet without honor back in 2006. Judge’s essential message, that idiocy was taking over the country, seems to have been borne out by recent events, above all the election of Donald J. Trump as president in 2016.

It’s difficult to expunge the whiff of Idiocracy surrounding our 45th president, with his error-filled tweets betraying a shaky command of the English language, contrary to his claim of possessing “a very good brain.” As candidate, Trump proclaimed, “I love the poorly educated,” and that, unlike many of his assertions, may actually be true. This, after all, is a commander-in-chief who belligerently can’t tell the difference between napalm and Agent Orange.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Why Is Trump Trying to Start a War He Cannot Win?

I’ve been a hardliner regarding Iran my whole professional life. During my time in the Intelligence Community, I favored aggressive approaches to countering Tehran’s misdeeds abroad. What I witnessed in the Balkans in the 1990s convinced me that revolutionary Iran is a bad actor on the international stage which needs containment, not an olive branch or any good-faith deal which the clerico-fascist mullah regime in Tehran will inevitably breach.

The ugly foreign operations of Iranian intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the notorious Pasdaran, including espionage, terrorism, assassinations, and subversion in Europe, formed the basis of the detailed exposé I published after I left the spy business. That book remains the definitive work on Iran’s secret war, including alliances with jihadist terrorists, waged against the West.

Nevertheless, what the Trump administration is doing now is more dangerous than anything Tehran has done in recent decades to destabilize the Middle East. Although the Trump White House’s aggressive posture toward Iran has been prominent from its first day in office, 18 months ago, the president has recently upped the ante, with results that may prove catastrophic.

It wasn’t enough to trash his predecessor’s Iran Deal (an agreement which I opposed), pulling the United States out of that multilateral agreement. Shredding Barack Obama’s grand bargain with Tehran now is worse than the deal itself, and it means that diplomacy with Iran is off the table, since Tehran has no reason to trust any “deal” Trump proffers.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Why did Trump choose to parrot Putin on Montenegro?

The tiny Balkan country of scarcely more than 600,000 people is known mostly for its sunny Adriatic beaches – so why is Trump portraying it as a threat?

For three decades, since returning from his mysterious trip to Moscow in the summer of 1987, Donald Trump has publicly railed against America’s allies. He has consistently portrayed Washington’s security partners around the world as “freeloaders” and worse. In Trump’s zero-sum worldview, which is derived from the casino business rather than diplomacy or military strategy, alliances are for chumps, at least when you’re the stronger partner.

This attitude has particularly applied to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which in his 18 months in the Oval Office President Trump has depicted as a scam designed to bleed America dry of dollars while lazy Europeans refuse to do their bit for the cash-strapped alliance. Trump’s dismissive attitude towards NATO was on full display during the alliance’s summit in Brussels last week. There, the American president repeatedly castigated NATO members, only five of whose 29 members meet the alleged “requirement” to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defense (the United States leads the pack, with 3.5 per cent of GDP given to the Pentagon in 2018).

In Brussels, Trump was his usual bull-bringing-his-own-china-shop self, causing offense as casually as normal heads of government shake hands, and notwithstanding his claim that the NATO summit was “truly great,” few Alliance members concur with that assessment. The summit was just one more official event which Donald Trump turned into a reality TV show, with the usual diplomatic puffery being replaced by orange-hued plate-throwing. If the president’s unstated aim was to hobble the Atlantic Alliance with mutual rage and loathing, he succeeded masterfully.

Read the rest at The Spectator USA …

This Is How Vladimir Putin Manufactures Conflict Between Nations

As Helsinki’s one-on-one presidential summit looms, with foreign policy mavens fearing that Vladimir Putin will run circles around a clueless Donald Trump, it’s time to examine what makes the Kremlin’s Chekist-in-Chief tick. Our president’s troubling statement that Putin and his KGB background are “fine” at least focused attention where it needs to be, on the undeniable fact that a career in the Soviet secret police made the Russian strongman who he is.

The Chekist worldview that forms Putin’s mental furniture is cynical and cunning to a degree that naïve Westerners—and from the Kremlin point of view pretty much all Westerners are naïve and easily exploited—find difficult to believe. Westerners simply shut eyes and ears, since the reality is so unpleasant. The casual manner with which Kremlin spies ruthlessly exploit others for their own ends is not a nice story, given that their methods embrace violence and life-ruining measures as nonchalantly as Westerners order a cup of coffee.

The cornerstone of the Chekist worldview is provocation, what the Russians call provokatsiya. It’s not new, indeed it was honed into a secret weapon in the late Tsarist era, to be perfected under the Bolsheviks. I’ve tried to explain this alien concept to Westerners for years, and it really boils down to a basic, rather nasty concept:

Read the rest at The Observer …

Trump Betrayed Our Military by Saluting North Korea

President Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed Singapore pseudo-summit this week with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s hereditary strongman, was a bizarre event by any standards, even Trump’s high ones for strangeness and norm-breaking. The mere fact that North Korea, the world’s nastiest dictatorship, was invited to meet with the American president as a peer, on equal standing, was a huge diplomatic victory for Pyongyang. Just by showing up, Trump gave that ugly regime the official imprimatur it has craved, and never gotten, ever since Joseph Stalin placed Kim Il-sung, the current leader’s grandfather, on the communist throne in 1948.

As for actual diplomacy, there wasn’t much on display in Singapore. This was a glorified photo op, hardly a bona fide summit, much less a significant diplomatic happening—except for the fact that it happened at all. Pyongyang received the famous Trumpian thumbs-up before the cameras, for the world to see. In return, North Korea gave, well, nothing, really. There are vague assurances in the joint declaration signed by Trump and Kim in Singapore about “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” notwithstanding that Pyongyang has demanded that for decades, by which they mean getting American nuclear weapons out of South Korea. Although the administration is promising “major disarmament” by Pyongyang imminently, no seasoned Korea-watchers consider that likely.

True to form, this week Trump has tweeted boastfully about his Singapore romp with the strangely coiffed fellow he so recently was dismissing as “Little Rocket Man.” As he stated plainly, complete with his customary weird capitalizations, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” This would be news to Pyongyang—and the U.S. military. Adding insult to injury, Trump promised his new friend that he would cease longstanding joint military exercises with American forces and South Korea’s, which is a serious blow to our military readiness and ability to deter North Korean aggression, not to mention a big win for Pyongyang—and their benefactors in Beijing. Tellingly, Trump has repeatedly called these exercises “war games,” a pejorative and propagandistic term used by the Kremlin and others who portray America as a global aggressor.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The Murder That Changed Germany

Every so often, a crime occurs that so shocks the public, while perfectly playing to the political zeitgeist, that it radically alters debates—and ultimately politics. For Germans of the baby boom generation, that crime was the murder of Benno Ohnesorg, a student protestor, in West Berlin on June 2, 1967. Ohnesorg was a 26-year-old whose young wife was expecting their first child, and his first demonstration turned out to be his last. For reasons that were never completely clear, a policeman shot Ohnesorg in the head in an unprovoked attack.

The uniformed killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was a veteran of Hitler’s army, a stand-in for all the things young West Germans loathed about their parents, and his crime outraged a generation. With “the shot that changed Germany,” as millions remembered it, Ohnesorg became a martyr, inspiring a left-wing protest movement and eventually even terrorism against the West German state. What made this case truly interesting is that it emerged more than four decades later that Kurras, instead of being the fascist he so ardently seemed to be, was in reality a highly prized spy—a mole—for the East German secret police, the notorious Stasi. But that, like so much else, is another story.

Another momentous murder has now come to pass in Germany, one that seems likely to upend German politics just as the Ohnesorg killing did—albeit in a different direction. The victim here is a 14-year-old girl, Susanna Maria Feldman, who is from Mainz, a regional city on the Rhine in the heart of Germany. She disappeared from her home on May 22 and, although her distraught mother filed a missing person’s report the following day, police did not commence any serious search until more than a week later, believing they had just another teenage runaway on their hands. Tipped off by a 13-year-old migrant boy living in an asylum shelter of the kind that dot Germany these days, the police soon had a suspect. Detectives found Susanna’s body on June 6, in a wooded area near railroad tracks on the outskirts of Wiesbaden, a few miles from her home. She had been raped and strangled to death.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Russia Has an Ideology—and It’s as Entrenched as Communism Was

Four years ago this week, I coined the term Cold War 2.0 to describe the deteriorating diplomatic and military situation between Russia and the West in the aftermath of the Kremlin’s dramatic seizure of Crimea. It was obvious to anyone who wished to see that a period of renewed conflict had arrived—because Moscow sought it. It wasn’t a repeat of the last Cold War, rather a reborn rivalry that promised to be even more unpredictable the second time. I concluded my assessment:

The West will prevail in this Cold War too because Putin’s corruption-laden model for Russia is unsustainable in the long run. In terms of population and per capita GDP, Russia is more or less Mexico with nuclear weapons. We are not headed for a bipolar world again, but a multipolar one where Russia can be a dangerous spoiler. But NATO, with American leadership, needs to wake up.

However, many people did not wish to wake up just yet, so my announcement of Cold War 2.0’s arrival was met with criticism that I was alarmist and overly worried about Russian President Vladimir Putin and the retinue of rough men around him, mainly Chekists like himself. I know something about Chekists—and Russians—so I understood that the Kremlin wasn’t going to stop its increasingly aggressive provocations unless it was forced to.

The last four years have witnessed Moscow’s march, real and virtual, on one Western institution after another. Above all, Putin’s Special War against the West—an unpleasant amalgam of espionage, propaganda, subversion and cyberattacks—has wrought havoc at minimal cost to Moscow. The Russian effort to create mayhem in America’s 2016 election surely succeeded beyond the Kremlin’s wildest hopes, while Britain’s recent Skripal case, an audacious attack with a military-grade nerve agent, demonstrates that Moscow’s spies aren’t beholden to any gentlemanly rules from the last Cold War.

Read the rest at The Observer …