Monday, March 3, 2014




(Monday March 3, 2014 Istanbul, Turkey) Just days after the Sochi Olympic Games while the eyes of the sporting world were focused on Russia, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin initiated military action on the Crimean peninsula on the southern tip Of Ukraine.  The rationale for this aggressive maneuver is being debated by world leaders and some, including the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, to comment after a long phone conversation with Putin that he “is on another planet”.  Others have been less diplomatic and have said in no uncertain terms that Putin’s appears to have lost his mind.  If these statements do in fact represent the reality of the situation or are even within striking range of the truth, the world has much to be wary of considering these assessments atop his Crimean adventure that seems to serve no one side any lasting good.

Some prominent world leaders have laid some of the blame for Putin’s most recent aggression at the feet of the United States.  To say our Foreign Policy has varied from haphazardly cosmetic to abysmally ineffective is putting it mildly.  While President George W. Bush famously commented after his first meeting with the Russian (at the time) Premier that he had looked into Putin’s soul it seems that President Obama has been so focused on Afghanistan and Iraq that he must have difficulty finding Crimea of the map.  These events in Ukraine and Crimea are in no way the fault of the United States; no way at all.  But, it seems we have been occupying a vacuum in Foreign Affairs that, while understandable given the ill-advised Bush/Cheney occupation of Iraq while still engaged in a brutally protracted fight in Afghanistan, has all but made the United States largely irrelevant in parts of the world where we once held some modicum of influence and sway.

The United States was once so highly respected and regarded that her voice alone could turn the course of events.  We have always been a fair and just arbiter, gracious in victory, generous to a fault and a powerful counterweight against the scales of injustice that have often run ragged around the world.  We had never engaged in a war of aggression until the Messianic, moronic President George W. Bush decided to wage war in Iraq based on a series of factoids that have long since proven to have been outright lies.

The epic failures of the Bush Administration made the playing field an open expanse from which ultimately produced President Obama.  In a crass political move intended to unite what was seen as a deeply divided Democratic Party with the heat of a rough Party Primary still fresh in the minds of the Victor and his supporters as well as the factions that supported the “also rans”, particularly Hillary Clinton, President Obama tapped his most formidable former rival to serve as his Secretary of State.  That Hillary Clinton was the least experienced person appointed to that position since the 1920’s her confirmation hearing were cordial and mildly contentious at times.  But, she was confirmed by the Senate in part propelled by the powerful “Clinton Machine”.  So Democrats thought she should have rejected his transparent offer seeing her as having “sold out” to a man who has had engaged in a very bruising and bloody Primary.

While the media was so deferential and laudatory towards Hillary when she was at the State Department what they all seemed to be blinded by was her absolute failures as the nation’s top diplomat.  Yes, she logged more hours flying on her plane all around the world in an endeavor that appeared more often than not, to be nothing more than acquiring bragging rights.  She did travel far and wide and, some of the more sensitive regions she flew into she never engaged in anything that could reasonably considered as the conduction of Foreign Policy.  She made all the photo ops, made speeches at colleges, universities and institutions across the globe and left.  One remains hard pressed today to identify one conflict, one “hot spot” where she visited and actually DID something…anything more than speak.


Along a stretch of coastline where the Black Sea laps ashore in Turkey, the United States has a robust intelligence gathering arsenal deployed.  Virtually all of our intelligence assets are in the electronic, digital form known as Signal Intelligence or simply “Sig Int”.  Our presence in Turkey spans back to the post World War II era when we had deployed offensive missiles targeting the Soviet Union on Turkish soil.  Since the collapse of the USSR many of her former states have regained their pre-Soviet autonomy.  The movement towards autonomy and in some nation states a democratic form of government has not been an easy course.  To this day there remain pockets of resistance fighters still trying to shed the vestiges of and get out from under the yoke of Russia.  Now a new front in this on-going power struggle has erupted in Ukraine and in particular a semi-autonomous peninsula on its southern tip, Crimea. 

Many veterans of the State Department, Foreign Service and others intimately familiar with the region have commented on this latest development of Russia aggression and view it as the former KGB operative turned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s  latest foray into the affairs of some former Soviet States.  The world has observed far from the sidelines and silently as Putin engaged with resistance movements in Georgia and Chechnya and other locales in the Caucus Region.  Behind some of these skirmish lines lays Putin’s attempts to exploit the natural resources in areas he contests.  In other places his actions appear to be more intimidation than actual military aggression.  In either case the United States must be vigilant while, in some ways, Putin seems to feel empowered to resurrect a skeletal version of the former Soviet Empire.  He had made many moves in recent years that appear to be intended as announcements to the world that Russia is a “major player” in geopolitics again.

As his closest neighbors and the wider world have taken notice of Putin’s increasingly arrogant posture, the world has also come to wonder what has become of America.  After the USSR blew apart the United States was left standing amid the settling dust and rubble as the “Lone Super Power”.  Despite the United States unique position on the world stage it has often been perceived as being unable, unwilling and uninterested in having a powerful strategic and diplomatic role to play.  In a summary of America’s Foreign Policy since 1991 vis a vis Russia we supported Boris Yeltsin after Mikhail Gorbachev made his exit and  with no bloodshed.  Yeltsin was a man of his times just happening to be uniquely positioned to step up based on populist support and vodka drinking citizen all across the vast expanse that had been the USSR.  America essentially bailed Yeltsin out of an economic disintegration that could have ignited mass upheaval and instability at that crucial time when stability was the goal.  Some of the former Soviet States found they had thousands of nuclear warheads within the confines of their historical boundaries and Presidents George H.W. Bush and William Clinton acted accordingly and likely staved off what could have been a period of violence and ethnic fighting.  President H.W. Bush deserves special credit for not “jumping the gun” and allowing the people of the old Soviet Union sort things out on their own in the period immediately after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.


Now we have entered the sixth consecutive year of a shadow Department of State.  Our reputation has been damaged beyond any quick and easy repair.  Unfortunately and to our detriment, the current Secretary of State is no more qualified for the job as was his predecessor.  John Kerry like Hillary Clinton appears to function under the misguided notions that the mere act of visiting a country and doling out foreign aid with “no strings attached” actually counts as conducting diplomacy. 

True, we are not the policemen for the world and every hot spot, ethnic dispute, regional conflict or contested territory requires the involvement of the United States.  After the disasters of eight years of Cheney/Bush a period of semi-isolationism is a wise tact.  The speed of globalization, interconnectedness and the emergence of a truly global economy require our engagement but not simply as wealthy enforcers installing puppet regimes such as we did with the drug lord, corrupt and thankless Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan who has taken every opportunity to stick his finger in the eye of America while directing billions of dollars in military, security and rebuilding aid to himself and his brother’s ruthless drug empire.

Our Foreign Policy under President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry has reached a depth of ineptitude the likes of which we have never seen.  Clearly there have been periods of time in our history that now stand out as huge Foreign Policy blunders but none has ever lasted this long.  The world has borne witness to our decline on the world stage.  Nations once loyal to the United States are reassessing their prerogatives in light of our apparent weakness.  The world has awoken to the fact that our bark is far greater than our bite and is taking advantage of this new reality in many places.

Part of the problem is that we seem to not have any real understanding of the cultures, societies, peoples and politics in countries we find ourselves drawn into or entering after the most tepid of invitations.  For the duration of the Cold War we knew our enemy and they knew us; there was that concept of mutually assured destruction that served as a formidable damper when tempers and emotions ran highest between the USA and USSR.  The implosion of the USSR surprised all the “experts” in the CIA and the intelligence community and those very same agencies including the CIA have been horribly caught off guard time and time again.

But the gathering and analysis of intelligence from non “Sig-Int” sources has been a collection of epic failures that has left our Administrations flat footed and embarrassed.  The State Department is arguably the major consumer of the intelligence community and, as such has an enormous task to perform so we are not caught off guard again.  There have been some improvements since September 11, 2001 within the intelligence community and in the Office of the Director of Intelligence but, even the sharpest scalpel is useless in the hands of an inexperienced surgeon.  Both Clinton and Kerry have proven to be nothing more than grossly inexperienced political appointees at the very time we need strong leadership in Foggy Bottom.

Putin has his reasons – rational or irrational – for his actions in Crimea.  He may see it as a valuable military resource where much of the Russian Navy is docked.  He may be bolstering Russians living in Crimea to reject a separatist movement.  He may be insane, out of touch, or emboldened by the absence of a counter weight.  Perhaps he’d be more likely to rethink his strategy and motives if he knew the United States was watching with interest and would act decisively in the UN and NATO to dissuade him of his decisions regarding Crimea.  But, that is not at all likely to happen.  He’s heard our bark before and has yet to be bitten.

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