Tag Archives: Donald Trump

First arrest in Russia scandal – for being an ‘unregistered agent’ of Ukraine!

The rumours, it appears, were true. Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate alleged Russian interference in the US election, has brought charges against former Trump adviser Paul Manafort for conspiracy to launder money.

It seems bad for Trump, you might think. But, stop! Money laundering has nothing to do with Russian interference. Moreover, who was Manafort working for when he committed his alleged crime? Not Russia. No. Ukraine! For sure, it wasn’t the current Ukrainian government, but that of the supposed (but in reality not at all) ‘pro-Russian’ president, Viktor Yanukovich. But still, there’s no Russian connection here.

Maybe, the conspiracy theorists might claim, but Manafort will now surely spill the beans on Trump, the Russians, and all their his evil doings. As the BBC says, ‘Mr Manafort will be under growing pressure to co-operate with the Mueller investigation. If he offers up useful information about his time during the campaign, this could be just the first domino to fall.’ But if Manafort actually had any relevant information about Russian interference in the election, he’d have offered it up by now. In the past weeks, reports have suggested that Mueller was pressuring Manafort to tell all in return for some deal, but Manafort told Mueller that he couldn’t cut a deal because he didn’t know anything.

Having not seen the charge sheet, I can’t say for sure where the evidence to indict Manafort came from, but it seems likely to have been the data about payments from Yanukovich to Manafort provided by the current Ukrainian authorities during the US presidential campaign, data which led to Manafort resignation from Trump’s team at that time. In short, it derived from Ukrainian interference in the US election.

Russia-wise, it appears that so far Mueller has drawn a blank. All he’s managed to come up with is charging someone for being an ‘unregistered agent’ of the Ukrainian government. Perhaps everybody has been chasing the wrong target.

UPDATE: You can read the charge sheet against Manafort and co-defendant Richard Gates here. I found paragraph 19 interesting. It says:

MANAFORT and GATES engaged in a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign in the United States at the direction of Yanukovich, the Party of Regions, and the Government and Ukraine. MANAFORT and GATES did so without registering and providing the disclosures required by law.

It’s an interesting outcome from an investigation set up to examine Russian interference in US politics.

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Reinforcing failure

So, now we know what Donald Trump intends to do about Afghanistan. He intends to reinforce failure, sending additional troops to that country (believed to amount to 1,000 soldiers and 3,000 military contractors, although Trump didn’t specify)  in an effort to defeat the Taleban. Quite how this miniscule increase in military power is meant to achieve that objective isn’t at all clear, especially given that the United States was unable to achieve it when it had 10 times as many troops in Afghanistan. With Steve Bannon out of the White House, we are led to believe that national security policy is now in the hands of the ‘grown-ups’, serious military men like H.R. McMaster and James Mattis, who understand strategy. But reading Trump’s speech on the subject it’s hard to see any sign of strategy. It is, quite frankly, a confusing mess.

On the one hand, Trump declared that he intends to ‘win’ the war in Afghanistan. ‘We will always win’, he said. But how will the US win? By avoiding all that touchy-feely nation building stuff, allowing more permissive rules of engagement, and permitting the US military to kill more bad guys, Trump seemed to say. ‘We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists,’ he declared, adding that, ‘we will no longer use American might to construct democracies in faraway lands … Those days are now over.’ But how many more ‘terrorists’ is another 4,000 people going to manage to kill, and what’s to say that more of them won’t just pop up in their place? Trump doesn’t have an answer. Indeed, he contradicted himself by saying that, ‘Military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising in that country. But strategically applied force aims to create the conditions for a political process to achieve a lasting peace’.

Ah! So the aim isn’t after all to ‘win’, but to ‘create the conditions for a political process.’ But what is this process? Trump didn’t tell us, no doubt because he hasn’t got a clue what it might be. All he could say was:

Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.

So, the strategy is to use military power to create the conditions for a political settlement with the Taleban, even though it has so far utterly failed to achieve that, and even though ‘nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.’ And this is what constitutes ‘grown-up’ thinking? At the end of the day, Trump’s announcement amounts merely to a statement that withdrawing will bring untold disaster, and therefore we have to persist, because, well, you know, it will be bad if we don’t. There is nothing in this announcement which suggests how Trump or his advisors imagine that this war will end. They are as clueless as Obama and  Bush before them, and so are just carrying on doing the same thing over and over.

Why do they do this? The answer is that the financial costs of the war are dispersed over a vast number of people, so that nobody actually notices them, while the human costs are concentrated in a small segment of the population – the military – which the rest of the people can safely ignore (and at the current tempo of operations, the number of Americans dying in Afghanistan is quite low). Politically speaking, continuing the war is relatively cost-free. But should America withdraw, and something then goes wrong, Trump and those around him will be held to blame. It is better therefore to cover their backsides and keep things bubbling along as they are until the problem can be passed onto somebody else. This is a solution in terms of domestic politics, but it’s not a solution in terms of the actual problem.

By coincidence, today I got more news about Afghanistan, in the form of the latest missive from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). This relates to a review of ‘USAID-funded initiatives to implement an electronic payment system for the collection of customs duties in Afghanistan.’ Like most Western-backed initiatives in Afghanistan, this one (managed by the company Chemonics) hasn’t gone according to plan. According to SIGAR, ‘Chemonics and USAID significantly revised the revenue generation targets downward for the first three quarters of program year four because the program failed to achieve any of the revenue generation targets established for year three.’ Beyond that, says SIGAR:

As of December 2016, there was little evidence to show that the project would come anywhere close to achieving the 75 percent target, however, USAID and Chemonics have not altered project targets to account for the reality of the situation, and instead continue to invest in an endeavor that appears to have no chance of achieving its intended outcome. [my underlining]

That pretty much sums it up.

Nonsense news

I have mentioned before my belief in the Biblical maxim about the mote and the beam, and I have repeatedly emphasized on this blog, including my last post, the need for greater self-awareness and greater humility. An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times reveals this need very clearly.

The editorial used former FBI chief James Comey’s testimony to Congress to lambast Donald Trump for his lack of integrity, describing Trump as a ‘venal, self-interested politician who does not recognize, let alone uphold’ the ‘legal principles at the foundation of American democracy.’ The headline made the editorial’s point very clear. ‘Mr Comey and All the President’s Lies’, it said. Telling the truth, it seems, is something that the New York Times values highly.

Or maybe not.

What the editorial didn’t tell readers was that the transcript of Comey’s testimony contains the following exchange between Comey and Senator Jim Risch:

RISCH:  I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. This is not factual. Do you recall that?

COMEY: Yes.

RISCH: OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?

COMEY: In — in the main, it was not true. And, again, all of you know this, maybe the American people don’t. The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is that people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on. … I mentioned to the chairman the nonsense around what influenced me to make the July 5th statement. Nonsense, but I can’t go explaining how it’s nonsense.

Later, Senator Tom Cotton returned to this subject.

COTTON: On February 14th, the New York Times published a story, the headline of which was, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.”

You were asked earlier if that was an inaccurate story, and you said, in the main. Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?

COMEY: Yes.

The New York Times has done a lot to stoke the accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, going so far on one occasion as to publish an op-ed by Louise Mensch. But while refusing to address the issue of collusion directly, Comey nevertheless poured cold water on it, as seen by the following exchanges with Senators Burr and Cotton:

BURR: Director, the term we hear most often is “collusion.” When people are describing possible links between Americans and Russian government entities related to the interference in our election, would you say that it’s normal for foreign governments to reach out to members of an incoming administration?

COMEY: Yes.

COTTON: Let’s turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia’s hacking into those e-mails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

COMEY: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, that — we didn’t — that (ph) when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump.

So, let’s get this straight. James Comey in effect says that he doesn’t think Trump colluded with Russia (‘we didn’t’, as he says above), and denounces the New York Times for publishing ‘nonsense’, in a story about alleged collusion which was ‘almost entirely wrong’. Yet, the response of the New York Times is not to apologize, and indeed not even to mention the matter, but instead to publish an editorial saying that Donald Trump is a liar.

Perhaps he is, but another maxim comes to mind: one about stones and people in glass houses. Recent research indicates that ‘public trust in the media [is] at all time low’. I wonder why.

Zaphod Trumplebrox and the Deep State

Douglas Adams nailed it [The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (Pan Books, 1979)]:

But it was not in any way a coincidence that today, the day of culmination of the project, the great day of unveiling, the day that the Heart of Gold was finally to be introduced to a marvelling Galaxy, was also a great day of culmination for Zaphod Beeblebrox. It was for the sake of this day that he had first decided to run for the Presidency, a decision which had sent shock waves of astonishment throughout the Imperial Galaxy – Zaphod Beeblebrox? President? Not the Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not the President? Many had seen it as clinching proof that the whole of known creation had finally gone bananas.

… It might have made much difference to them if they’d known exactly how much power the President of the Galaxy actually wielded: none. Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it.

If he wants a peaceful life, Donald Trump (Not the Donald Trump? Not the President?) should take heed and learn his rightful place.

Dimwitted and dangerous

At some point during last year’s American presidential campaign, the Democratic Party decided that it would play the Russia card and accuse Donald Trump of being at best a Kremlin stooge, at worst a Russian agent. The Democrats then turned this card almost into the centrepiece of their campaign, repeating the charges against Trump again and again. Quite why they they though this strategy was a good one, I cannot imagine, as it merely reinforced their lack of connection with ordinary American voters, but I am guessing that after a while they had said it so often that they came to believe it.

We now know that following Hillary Clinton’s defeat, her advisors met to discuss how to react to their electoral disaster, and that they decided that the best option was to blame it on the Russians. Again, I can’t fathom why, except perhaps that it a) had now became a matter of faith, and b) it excused them from having to examine their own failings.

Since then the Democratic Party has been waging non-stop war against President Trump, focusing on his, and his close associates’, allegedly dubious connections with Russia. Abetting them have been members of the security and intelligence services who have been leaking information to the press at every appropriate opportunity in an effort to derail any attempted rapprochement between the USA and the Russian Federation. The ‘deep state’ (if you believe in such a thing) has been hard at work.

You might say that ‘all is well in love and war’, and that it’s quite fair to use whatever weapon one can in order to attack your political opponents. But in this case, I think, the attacks have not only long since became entirely divorced from reality but have also descended into gross irresponsibility.

Take, for instance, the latest allegations about Trump divulging secrets to the Russians. Horrified by this supposed abuse of power, unknown intelligence officials with the help of the Washington Post have divulged these secrets not merely to the Russians but to THE ENTIRE BLOODY WORLD. Personally, I’m not too bothered by this; my own short career in the world of intelligence persuaded me that it’s far less important than people think it is. Nonetheless, it is extraordinarily hypocritical of Trump’s critics to complain about breaches of secrecy while breaching secrecy themselves on a far grander scale. Trump’s enemies accuse him of being irresponsible, but who’s being irresponsible here?

Next – and I will go out on a limb here and make my biases very clear – I am firmly of the opinion that it is a positive thing if states have good relations with one another. And it’s especially important that powerful states do so. Which is better? A world in which the major powers are in conflict with one another, or a world in which they get on with each other? Obviously, the latter. Thus, IMPROVING US-RUSSIA RELATIONS IS A GOOD IDEA. When Trump said that during the election campaign, he was entirely right. However, his enemies are working flat out to achieve the opposite result. In an effort to undermine their president, they are doing all they can to sabotage US-Russia relations. In other words, they are jeapordizing their own country’s interests, and more broadly the security of the entire world, because they think it is a good way of gaining domestic political advantage. Again, I ask, who’s being irresponsible here?

Finally, in seeking to destroy Trump in this way, his opponents are threatening the internal order of their own country. Perhaps one other explanation for the obsession with Russia is that the ‘Never Trumpists’ aren’t seeking electoral advantage so much as some form of ‘soft coup’ or palace revolution. The hope isn’t to harm Trump’s electoral prospects in 2020, but to force him to resign or to get him impeached. They are, in essence, trying to get around the electoral process.

What makes this dangerous is that many Trump supporters are already convinced that the elites who govern the United States don’t care about their interests and have rigged the system to do them down. Now that they’ve finally got their man elected, they aren’t going to take too kindly to seeing him booted out in such a way. Were this tactic to succeed, it would alienate a large section of the population even more thoroughly than it is already, and could even, in the worst scenarios, have violent consequences (right-wing militias are already responsible for much more violence in the USA than any other type of political group). The Democrats and their allies in the security and intelligence services are playing with fire. Once again, who’s being irresponsible here?

Speaking in Sochi today, Vladimir Putin summed it up well, saying:

They are shaking up the political situation in the USA using anti-Russian slogans. Either they don’t understand what harm they are doing to their own country, in which case they’re simply dimwitted, or they understand fully, and then they’re simply dangerous and unscrupulous.

Personally, I think they’re both.