Sarah Kendzior Ponders Foreign Affairs ‘In the Shadow of Putin’

Sarah Kendzior, an anthropologist with a background studying the dictatorships in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, speaks to Lindsay Beyerstein on Beyerstein’s The Breach podcast:

This week on The Breach, journalist Sarah Kendzior joins us to talk about the weaponization of information in Putin’s Russia. The full extent of Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election is still under investigation, but Russia has a well-documented history of influencing politics abroad with propaganda, disinformation, cold hard cash, and even cyber warfare. Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not an isolated incident.

SeeThe Breach: In the Shadow of Putin With Sarah Kendzior @ Rewire. A transcript of the podcast is available online.

Kendzior’s remarks about Russian political goals in 2016 are only part of a notable interview:

Lindsay: Some intelligence analysts have said that Putin’s initial goal was just to be a chaotic influence on the election but that he eventually gravitated towards a preference for Trump. Does that make sense?

Sarah: I think both things are possible. In a sense, it’s a win/win. To start off, I think that our institutions were already fragile before Russia intervened in any way. I think because they were fragile, Russia was able to pull off what they seem to have done in the manner that they did it. So I think in one sense they’re exacerbating problems that already existed and making them worse through propaganda and political maneuvering and other means. I think he also preferred Trump to win in part because Clinton was a fiercer opponent in terms of Russia’s geopolitical aims, but also because of this long history that Russia seems to have with Trump ranging from Manafort to Trump’s connection to oligarchs to various people who Trump employed in the cabinet, including Flynn who’s now gone, but also, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson who received the order of friendship. Trump designed the cabinet that’s extremely pro Putin that has many individuals that have personal ties and corporate ties, and obviously that works to their advantage.

Britian’s Foreign Minister Uses Van Halen Defense to Justify Trump State Visit

There’s a debate in Parliament about whether to extend a state visit to Donald Trump. Trying to mount a defense of a Trump visit, the British foreign minister had this to say about why Trump should be accorded the honor:

Boris Johnson tells the House that he believes “both Nicolae Ceausescu and Robert Mugabe have been entertained by Her Majesty”.

The foreign minister’s argument in favor of Trump is that, after all, there have been worse people – dictators and mass murders – invited to see the Queen.

This is the Van Halen defense: I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.

‘His thoughts are so correct’

Consider a letter from Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, autocrat, murderer, and imperialist.

Putin recently sent Trump a letter, only a few brief paragraphs, and Trump gave a statement in reply:

Download (PDF, 55KB)

“A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct,” Trump said in a statement. “I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”

The alternative path to Putin’s would, in fact, be desirable, as it would encourage democracy and productivity at home, and peaceful international relations abroad.

(Small but worth noting: for all the nativism Trump’s kicked up, he has a poor grasp of his native language. In his obsequious reply to Putin, Trump misuses alternate for alternative, and is maladroit even in his praise, using the awkward, ‘his thoughts are so correct,’ something a struggling newcomer to English might use. He has no valid defense against this criticism: Trump’s insisted that his own bar should be high, as he’s assured us that “I know words, I have the best words…“)

As it is, both words and actions show Trump to be unfit for, and hostile to, the fundamental characteristics of a free society.

Garry Kasparov on Vladimir Putin’s Election Interference and America’s Response

Garry Kasparov‘s a great hero of mine (and of many millions across the world), not simply for his unquestioned understanding of chess, but even more for his commitment to human freedom and democratic institutions. In the audio interview below, Kasparov speaks about Putin’s manipulation of our recent election.

(By the way, Kasparov’s excellent book, Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, is now out in paperback, and is also available @ Amazon in hardcover, Kindle, Audible, or mp3 CD format.)


Evidence that Russian Military Unit was Behind DNC Hack

Ellen Nakashima reports that a Cybersecurity firm finds evidence that Russian military unit was behind DNC hack:

The firm CrowdStrike linked malware used in the DNC intrusion to malware used to hack and track an Android phone app used by the Ukrainian army in its battle against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine from late 2014 through 2016.

While CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC to investigate the intrusions and whose findings are described in a new report, had always suspected that one of the two hacker groups that struck the DNC was the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, it had only medium confidence.

Now, said CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch, “we have high confidence” it was a unit of the GRU. CrowdStrike had dubbed that unit “Fancy Bear.”

The FBI, which has been investigating Russia’s hacks of political, government, academic and other organizations for several years, privately has concluded the same. But the bureau has not publicly drawn the link to the GRU.


Download (PDF, 1.98MB)

Someone the President-Elect Admires

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, overseer of a contentious and bloody crackdown on drug dealers and users, boasted on Monday about having personally killed criminal suspects when he was mayor of Davao City.

“In Davao, I used to do it personally — just to show to the guys that if I can do it, why can’t you?” Mr. Duterte told business leaders at a meeting in Manila, explaining how he goaded police officers to gun down suspects.

“And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also,” he said, according to The Manila Times. “I was really looking for a confrontation, so I could kill.”

Via Rodrigo Duterte on Killing Criminal Suspects: ‘I Used to Do It Personally.’

See also Philippine President Duterte unveils his Trump impression, complete with profanities. (“Oh, President Duterte,” Duterte’s Trump impersonation begins. “We should fix our bad relations. It needs a lot of, y’know, you just said something good here. And you’re doing great. I know what’s your worry about these Americans criticizing you. You are doing good. Go ahead.”)

How Much, and What Kind, of Military Spending?

Analysts from five Washington policy institutes[1] have published a joint report asking (1) what should American defense strategy be? (2) what capabilities, investments, and force structure might that strategy require? and (3) what would such a military cost?  (The five institutes are not of the same views, with the Cato Institute’s Benjamin H. Friedman notable for advocating fiscal and strategic restraint.)

Here’s the report:

Download (PDF, 4.41MB)

[1] The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), The Cato Institute, The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Our New Partner

The Washington Post reports today on the the first fruits of Trump’s foreign policy direction:

The Kremlin says that Russian President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump have agreed in a phone call to work to improve U.S.-Russian relations.

The Kremlin says that Putin expressed readiness to establish a “partner-like” dialogue with Trump’s administration….

The Kremlin says that Putin and Trump agreed that U.S.-Russian ties are “unsatisfactory” and spoke for joint efforts to normalize them and engage in a “constructive cooperation on a broad range of issues.”

Hopeful wall-builders must be disappointed that Trump’s call wasn’t to threaten Mexican officials (really, to make a mere show of it while America pays for whatever barrier he devises against free markets in capital, goods, and labor).

No, it was a telephone call to Putin, bomber of innocents in Syria, tormentor of Ukranians, and friend of anti-Anerican hackers, that Trump so obligingly took.

One can guess – without guessing – that “partner-like” discussions involve terms to lift sanctions against Russia for her violence in Ukraine.

It says all one need hear that even the United Nations Human Rights Council, with several dictatorial members, found Russian conduct so egregious that they rejected her continued membership.

No matter, from Putin’s perspective: why should Russia worry about the U.N. when she was Trump by her side?

The Limits of China Under Communism

A single paragraph from Jacob Soll puts China in perspective: 

There is no historical example of a closed imperial economy facing large capital-driven, open states and sustainably competing over a long term. That is not to say that China isn’t an economic powerhouse and a remarkable site of energy and potential. It is certainly both. But we also know Chinese debt — as secret as the state likes to keep it — is enormous, and that its financial system is like any other bubble. It is predicated on inflated earnings reports and expectations.

The great “Beijing Consensus,” China’s absolute commitment to showing 8% growth every year, is unsustainable, at least through legitimate means. And without it, China is beginning to look like an enormous totalitarian ponzi scheme — a phenomenon common enough in world history, but extremely dangerous to be near in the long run.

Via China: The new Spanish Empire?

McCain on the CIA Torture Report

Goodness knows libertarians have had countless differences with Sen. John McCain, on domestic and foreign policy. 

We could have no disagreement, however, with his condemnation of the CIA’s use of torture for interrogation of America’s enemies. 

Our politics – including the acknowledgment of our own ethical failures -should be of the highest standards.  To use the means of our murderous, nihilistic enemies isn’t simply ‘beneath’ us, but a fundamental rejection of America’s principled teachings on human rights. 

Considering McCain’s long, difficult military service and captivity in Vietnam, and career in government afterward, he’s particularly situated to consider these issues. 

More ABC US news | ABC World News

Friday Poll: Vladimir Putin – Benign Statesman or Scheming Autocrat?


Ukraine is in turmoil, and nearby, Vladimir Putin watches.

For today, a simple question (about Putin and Ukraine, or Putin generally): benign statesman or scheming autocrat?

In my own view, I’ll say it’s scheming autocrat, all the way down.

What do you think?

Overestimating China’s influence: ‘Five myths about China’s power’

Writing at the Washington Post, Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College lists  exaggerations and distortions about China.

As with now-discarded theories from the ’80s about Japan’s supposed economic indomitability, there’s been much foolishness about China’s actual prospects.

SeeFive myths about China’s power – The Washington Post.

See, also, an online chat on the same topic.

(From the chat, Pei on the biggest myth about China: “The biggest myth about China is that the country has learned to do capitalism better than the West.  You hear this from Western business people all the time.  The reality is that China has learned to do “raw capitalism” or “crony capitalism” much faster than people can imagine.  But I don’t think people in the West could tolerate that kind of capitalism.)

China’s President Pushes Back Against Western Culture

BEIJING — President of Hu Jintao of China has said that China must strengthen its cultural production to defend against the West’s assault on the country’s culture and ideology, according to an essay in a Communist Party policy magazine published this week. The publication of Mr. Hu’s words signaled that a new major policy initiative announced last October would continue well into 2012.

The essay, which was signed by Mr. Hu and based on a speech he gave in October, drew a sharp line between the cultures of the West and China and effectively said the two sides were engaged in an escalating culture war. It was published in Seeking Truth, a magazine that evolved from a publication founded by Mao as a platform for establishing Communist Party principles.

A defensive effort of this kind stems from weakness. It may score successes now and again, but irrestible state control of culture is possible only in places like North Korea.

Those who insist loudly and nervously that they ‘just have to get their message out’ are already losing the battle of ideas.

Via New York Times.

The Continuing Global Growth of Christianity

There’s a distinction between separation of church & state and secularization, although the distinction isn’t always grasped. America and France both have a separation of church from state, but France is the more secular society. Religion is more visible in American civil society, compared with France (if anything, that’s a considerable understatement).

There’s much worry among the religious about secularization in America, but I’d guess it’s unnecessary worry: America is and will remain a predominantly religious country.

Beyond America, this is even more true: religion, and particularly Christianity (yes, Christianity), is flourishing. Historians and demographers have noted this trend, among them Philip Jenkins, and Walter Russell Mead writes about it today in his fine blog:

A new report from the invaluable Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the most important source for information on religion in today’s world, will make a lot of people unhappy. The report looks at religious belief worldwide and finds that Christianity in the last one hundred years grew to become the world’s most widespread and diverse religion as well as the largest. Roughly one third of the world’s almost seven billion people are (or at least say they are) Christian. The second largest religion, Islam, claims about one fourth of the world’s population.

The demographic trends favor Christian expansion in Asia and Africa, and Mead speculates on the influence that expansion may have on democratization and human rights.

See Walter Russell Mead’s Via Meadia Blog.

For the report, see Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’ s Christian Population.

Walter Russell Mead on ‘The Most Important Story of the Day’

That important story is the topic of Mead’s post on a Conference Board report about China’s slowing growth rate:

….China’s growth is likely to slow to 8.7 percent next year, 6.6 percent in each of the four years after that, and then average 3.5 percent per year between 2017 and 2025. It has long been an article of faith inside China and among most China watchers that the country needs 9 percent growth per year to avoid widespread instability.

If China’s growth decelerates that fast, that far, the biggest question in world politics won’t be how the rest of us will accommodate China’s rise. The question will shift to whether China can last….

Hard to see clearly that far ahead, but if the Conference Board proves right, then Mead will surely be right.

I’ve no dislike for the Chinese people, yet every reason to dislike their oppressive government. Economic competition with China hasn’t been bad, but rather good, for America. She offers much, and spurs us to be more productive (her goods also being the fuel of our greater productivity).

And yet, and yet, there is not the slightest chance – none at all – that China’s meddlesome government can sustain genuine growth of the kind she’s claimed through year upon year of planning. Nor is there the slightest possibility that a one-party state is a moral option for her people, or any other.

I wouldn’t welcome China’s collapse, but I doubt anyone will have occasion to observe China’s supposed, perpetual advance.

Via Walter Russell Mead’s ‘Via Meadia.’