• Biden Foreign Policy Update: Ukraine, China, and More

    September 14, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    What is Joe Biden’s foreign policy? It’s a trick question, because he has no actual policy, no plan, no careful set of chess moves a step ahead of his adversary. America suffers for it.

    Biden’s foreign policy initially began and ended in Afghanistan, and the disastrous withdrawal that left refugees strew around the globe, problem children still being sorted out. There were years, then months, then weeks, then days to plan the NEO — the noncombatant evacuation order — and plenty of planning books for one sitting on desks in places like Seoul.

    Still the basic mistakes were made, including reducing the evacuation from several well-guarded sites (particularly American military bases being closed down) to a single semi-open civilian site at Kabul airport to allow the mobs and the enemy to concentrate, failing to negotiate an end strategy with the adversary (as was done in Vietnam and Iraq; basically let us evacuate peacefully and the place is yours a day later), having no system to prioritize boarding, and not pre-negotiating landing rights in neighbor countries that were to be used as staging areas. Instead, Biden simply sat on his hands while troops on the ground did their best to ad hoc a strategy of evacuating those who Darwin got over the fenceline. Add in breaking the cardinal rule of all NEOs, leave no American citizens behind. Biden’s follow-up to the evacuation has been to pretend it never really happened and not talk about it. America’s reputation, meh.

    That leaves the multidimensional foreign policy mess in Ukraine, Biden’s other big foreign policy move. What is the Biden policy, what is it intended to achieve for U.S. interests, and what is its end game? No one can really answer those questions, a sign of real problems, particularly the lack of an end game other than childish “the other side goes home before we do.”

    Biden’s failure in Ukraine is based on several fallacies. Primarily was his belief “allies” in Western Europe would band together behind the leadership of the U.S. to, well, do something against Russia. Nobody wanted actual war between say Germany and Russia, so the idea was western European allies would send weapons and participate in sanctions and this would cause Russia to withdraw. In the early days, more than six month ago now, the goal was whispered to be the fall of Putin, regime change with possibly even a new pro-western leader in Moscow, another “end of history” moment since the west squandered the first one trying to make Russia into a capitalist franchise. How’s that McD’s in Red Square we worked so hard for doing anyway?

    Euro-enthusiasm was damp to begin with, perhaps for having seen a dozen American foreign policy adventures that required their urgent support turn to mud (Afghanistan was the freshest international effort to fail, preceeded by the famous Coalition of the Willing in Iraq War III of 2003) and so predictably within weeks the arms flow became mostly All-America after some token gifts of aircraft and armor from the Danes, et al. U.S. Special Forces were on the ground in Ukraine soon enough, the CIA active alongside them, and the escalation in both amount of material and sophistication of weaponry running full steam. Ukraine on the ground very quickly devolved from a NATO effort into an American one. Again.

    But the biggest failure of Biden foreign policy in Ukraine was with sanctions, those economic pressure points that were to make the price of continued war too high for Putin to bear. Fears Putin would “cut off” western Europe’s gas turned out to be a joke. European gas and oil were instead simply rerouted to Paris and Berlin via Chinese and Indian resellers, and at higher prices than prewar to boot. U.S. sanctions have actually aided Russia. Though Russia’s energy exports fell by volume, Russia’s export prices have been on average around 60 percent higher than last year. About the only people actually sanctioned so far were American consumers, who paid $5.00 a gallon for gas in the spring and early summer, some dumb enough to even believe they were helping Ukraine via their small sacrifice. Europe may get their chance to help defeat Putin as energy prices may rise by 400 percent mid-winter.

    France and Germany evolved the ability to talk tough and do little of substance, making quite an event out of the end of Russian energy exports via ship while quietly lapping at the pipelines like drunkards. And what demand does not fix supply steps in for. The EU reduced direct imports of Russian crude oil by 18 percent but thanks to Russian re-exporters  India and others, that has little-to-no net change in Russia’s overall oil export volumes. China, too, has helped make up for the EU shortfall, re-exporting into the global market as the largest single buyer of Russian energy. Japan holds that title for as yet unsanctioned Russia coal exports. Even the U.S. itself helps out, buying unsanctioned highly refined oil products from the Netherlands and India that most certainly were made at least in part from Russia crude. It turns out Biden was unaware how hard it is to simply turn off Russian energy exports.

    China imported more Russian gas in 2022 then any previous year. In the first six months of 2022, according to Chinese customs data, China bought a total of 2.35 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG), valued at $2.16 billion, from Russia, an increase of 28 percent year-on-year, with the value surging by 182 percent. This meant Russia surpassed Indonesia and the United States to become China’s fourth-largest supplier of LNG. Bad enough news if China was using the LNG itself to grow its economy but the LNG is being resold to Europe as a sanctions buster. As reported by the Financial Times, “Europe’s fears of gas shortages heading into winter may have been circumvented, thanks to an unexpected white knight: China.” They further note “the world’s largest buyer of liquefied natural gas is reselling some of its surplus LNG cargoes due to weak energy demand at home. This has provided the spot market with an ample supply that Europe has tapped, despite the higher prices.” Maybe no one has told Joe the bad news.

    So where are Biden’s allies? The EU (…China, India, Africa, and Japan) may at times talk a great game but are hamstrung by its own energy needs. Joe Biden’s foreign policy response? To travel to Saudi Arabia to bargain away any remaining American self-respect for oil. The UN meantime saw 35 key abstentions, including much of Africa, on a symbolic get-out-of-Ukraine resolution. The head of the African Union explicitly called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia. Brazil and Mexico refuse to condemn Russia. Biden stands nearly alone claiming the liberal world order is at risk. And, um, the G-7 announced they agreed on a plan to impose a set price on Russian oil, literally not that that matters since the resell market is where the action is.

    Meanwhile, as Biden makes plans to send additional sticks and stones to Ukraine, Beijing recently announced plans to waive debt owed by 17 African countries. China plans to invest a further $300 billion in the continent. China’s continues to make inroads into the “Lithium Triangle,” Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, which account for 56 percent of the world’s lithium supply. Over the years, China has acquired a number of mines in the three countries. In the space of two years, between 2018 and 2020, China invested $16 billion on mining projects there. In an effort to further capture a monopoly in the lithium market, China is also investing in Zimbabwe, home to Africa’s largest lithium reserves, injecting $300 million into its Arcadia Lithium Mine. Elsewhere, the Solomon Islands’ new security pact with Beijing could lead to a Chinese naval base being constructed off Australia.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Trump

    Caught Stealing Data in Europe, U.S. Now Seeks to Legalize the Theft

    August 4, 2014 // 11 Comments »



    Nearly unique among nations, the U.S. broadly imposes extraterritoriality– in the case, the enforcement of U.S. laws in other, sovereign nations.

    An Exceptional Nation

    Many examples of extraterritoriality grow out of America’s archipelago of military bases around the world, where Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) allow service members exemption from local laws, even when they commit crimes against host country people. The U.S. also stations Customs and Border Patrol agents in other nations, denying boarding on U.S.-bound flights from Canada, for example, to Canadian citizens otherwise still standing in their own country. Imagine the outcry in America if the Chinese were to establish military bases in Florida exempt from U.S. law, or if the Russians choose which Americans could fly out of Kansas City Airport. Never mind drone strikes, bombings, deployment of Special Forces, invasions and CIA-sponsored coups.

    The snowballing NSA revelations have already severely damaged U.S. credibility and relationships around the world; nations remain shocked at the impunity with which America dug into their private lives. NSA spying has also cost American tech firms $180 billion in lost revenues, as “We’re not an American company” becomes a sales point.

    A New Level

    An American court has just taken things to a new level of extraterritorial offensiveness by requiring Microsoft to turn over to the U.S. government emails it holds on its servers. But in this case, those servers are located in Ireland, a European Union nation with its own privacy laws. Those laws are apparently of no real concern to the United States.

    In a July 31 ruling upholding a lower court decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis in New York ruled that an American search warrant can be applied outside the country and served on a foreign company if that company has some business connection to an American corporation. The ruling makes all data in the world subject to a U.S. court, assuming some nexus to an American entity can be found. The nexus question is important; U.S. law holds that a company doing business in the U.S., say Malaysian Airlines, can be sued in the U.S. for some event that occurred abroad, such as an air crash in the Ukraine. The court ruling could in theory require Credit Suisse to open its servers in Zurich to the U.S. government simply because they have an office in Manhattan.

    In the current case, the theory was that because Microsoft owned and controlled a foreign subsidiary company based in Ireland, any data stored in that overseas office or its data centers fell within (virtual) U.S. territory. This exposes massive amounts of foreign cloud-stored data, including emails and web searches, to American law enforcement working through an American court system that has been compliant in satisfying its needs post-9/11.

    Rules are For Fools

    The Judge went further is his decision, claiming official channels between countries that currently allow for cross-border law enforcement operations, called mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs), are “generally… slow and laborious, as it requires the cooperation of two governments and one of those governments may not prioritize the case as highly as the other.” The judge added: “The burden on the government would be substantial, and law enforcement efforts would be seriously impeded.”

    MLATs, the system that has been in place for many, many years prior to this week’s court ruling, are formal treaties whereby countries agree to share law enforcement information when it is to the benefit of both sides. They are subject to transparency and scrutiny, court review and have numerous steps built in to protect the rights of the accused. An example of an MLAT’s typical use might be a cross-border investigation into an alleged narco trafficker doing bad things in both nations. MLAT’s are usually administered abroad through the FBI’s Legal Attache stationed at the U.S. Embassy.

    EU Data Laws

    The American court’s ruling, allowing the United States to simply demand Microsoft’s data from Ireland for whatever purpose it may decide to use it, is a big, big deal. European information law is very strict. Data held by a company in Europe is considered to ultimately belongs to the citizen who generated it. A citizen can request access to his or her own data, and when it’s no longer needed, it must be deleted.

    In the U.S., data is considered the property of the tech company that has its hands on it at the moment. So, in America, your Facebook posts and Instagram pictures don’t really belong to you, and you can’t block those companies from giving them to the government, or selling them to a third party for that matter.

    Yet the most amazing thing about the judge’s ruling is its sheer audacity. In the immediate wake of the revelations that the NSA has been stealing Europe’s data, the judge has ruled that it is in fact now legal for the U.S. government to simply demand that data.

    Microsoft to Appeal

    In hopes of salvaging its business in Europe, Microsoft is appealing the decision. http://publicpolicy.verizon.com/blog/entry/verizon-files-amicus-brief-in-support-of-microsoft Verizon, Apple, AT&T, and Cisco, despite handing over their data to the NSA domestically willy-nilly, are supporting Microsoft in its efforts to block the European grabs.

    In its appeal, Microsoft summed up the issue concisely:

    A U.S. prosecutor cannot obtain a U.S. warrant to search someone’s home located in another country, just as another country’s prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States. We think the same rules should apply in the on line world, but the government disagrees.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Trump