• Biden Wants All the Points Due a Wartime President without Actually Going to War

    April 4, 2022 // 7 Comments »

    The view that war is politics by other means, the realist idea nations pursue strategic goals with some sort of calculation behind them, is not for us. Americans must reduce everything to good versus evil, democracy versus autocracy, light versus dark. Leaders throughout history have sold wars with this b.s.; America’s problem is we seem to actually believe it’s true. Let’s see how it plays out in the real world.

    Imagine facing an enemy who refuses to surrender despite overwhelming odds, leaving the other side the choice between a protracted urban war or an air attack to resolve the situation. In the case of Putin and Kiev, our nightly news is flooded with images of the targeting of civilians and screams from Washington of war crimes. The American answer in an earlier war, however, was the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two targets at the end of a long and ugly war where women and children were casually incinerated to save we were told additional casualties on the ground. It was OK because America is basically good. If you twist that logic hard enough it comes out we did the Japs a favor by nuking their cities. The cries of “but it’s different!” because of whatever, Pearl Harbor, are left unanswered by the blackened ghosts of the Japanese who died not knowing what a favor the US did them.

    And that action in 1945 (amplified by the destruction by policy of whole villages in Korea and Vietnam, never mind the scorched earth of Fallujah) leaves the United States in a unique position it pretends not to know about. As Putin and others may talk about nuclear threats, history records that we alone actually used nuclear weapons, against civilian targets. Little bitches like Putin or Kim may issue threats but only the United States has carried through with it. It’s a helluva basis for morality.

     

    America’s simplistic morality means it cannot ascribe a legitimate strategic goal to an adversary; he must instead be crazy, insane, new Hitler, bonkers, thug, bully, war criminal, driven to restore Imperial Russia, a danger to his own people, bent on world domination, Saddam, Assad, Qaddafi, anything out of the Bond villian community. Local or regional problems thus self-inflate into existential threats to democracy. We can’t just beat Putin in Ukraine, we have to destroy his economy, regime change him, murder him outright to even the moral score since he dared challenge our world view. This causes us to make serious mistakes.

    In Putin’s case, few allow that maybe he really is scared of NATO forces walking right to his border and seeks a buffer zone in the Ukraine. That is certainly what he has said (we don’t believe him.) At the end of the Cold War the west denuclearized new nation states like Ukraine, redrew their borders in line with western aims, and added Poland and the Balkan states to NATO. Most of all, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the west did not dismantle NATO. The alliance, formed for the collective defense of western Europe against the Soviets, was left not only to stand after the Soviet Union was gone, but thrust eastward, claiming territory that would have been among NATO’s first targets had the Cold War gone hot.

    Imagine the reaction inside Moscow to its worst fears being shoved at it at its weakest moment, and if you can, you may understand Putin’s not-crazy goals. As the west turned up the heat instead of bringing Russia in from the cold, NATO went from a defensive alliance to a political cudgel. From Putin’s point of view, he faces an adversary which actually believes it has the moral responsibility to dictate global political arrangements, even in regions that are more important to him than they are to the Washington.

    Putin tried to make his needs known, that Ukraine should stay neutral. His proffer was met by a coup (likely abetted by the US) which brought pro-US nationalists to power. The response was, almost had to have been, Putin’s invasion of Crimea. These are not wars of choice in the way say Putin invading Iraq might be, but wars of strategic necessity to him. Had the US had the philosophical ability to understand this, it might have found a reasonable negotiating strategy instead of poking the bear in one of his most sensitive areas until he reacted.

    That is the background, but why attack Ukraine now? In its arrogance America has decided it all has to do with America, actually the least important factor here. So we hear about Trump and Putin’s bromance, wonder if Biden is weak, speculate the horrible ending in Afghanistan is at fault. But if you think like Putin, your focus is elsewhere. He looks at the warpigs in charge today, the same Obama team from the 2014 overthrow, Blinken, Sullivan, Nuland, and Susan Rice. And it was then-VP Biden who personally ran Obama’s Ukraine policy. He knows CIA paramilitaries are on the ground in Ukraine. Then in November 2021 the US and Ukraine signed the Charter on Strategic Partnership, asserting Kiev’s right to NATO membership. The Charter was a policy statement by the Biden administration, and an intolerable prospect for Russia. By imagining Putin as nothing but a megalomaniac, America unknowingly drew a red line for him. It is easy to imagine a future historian uncovering documents showing the planning for the current invasion began at that same time.

    Convinced NATO will never reject Ukraine, Putin took his own steps to block it. By invading, he created a “frozen conflict” knowing NATO cannot realistically admit countries that don’t control their borders (how to apply Article Five when a country is already at war as it joins NATO?) Such frozen conflicts already cripple Georgia, Crimea, and Moldova, as well as the semi-independent areas of Donbas and Luhansk. Add now Ukraine to that list. If you understand this, you also know what happens next in Ukraine: not much apart from better defining borders and the new lines of control. No need to drive much further west, Putin has already got most of what he wanted. And no need to worry about nukes, they are not needed for Putin’s strategic purpose.

    This is why sanctions won’t accomplish much besides raising the price of gas for Americans. Putin is chasing a goal which has eluded Russia for three decades. Sanctions will not cause him to give that up, any more than previous sanctions caused him to hesitate striking. Russia and America are talking past one another, identifying different motivations and different end games.

    The sad news is Ukraine does not realize it is a pawn in a larger struggle. The Ukrainians bought the big lie in the 90s that if they denuclearized America would protect them. They now join the long list of countries goaded by the US into fighting to the last man in support of American foreign policy goals (ask the Iraqi Kurds, and later the Sunnis, how that worked out.) Ukrainians are very brave, but it was Americans that put them in harm’s way by using their country as a crush zone, with little consideration for the people now paying the price.

    Biden wants all the points due a wartime president without actually going to war; he is practicing political opportunism not statecraft. That will collapse mightily on old Joe if Putin declares victory first. So soon enough Zelensky will get the call from the White House letting him know time is up, he’ll have to take a deal with Russia to reset the status quo for a faux “win.” Biden needs the war to end before it starts to look like he lost. Zelensky can reject this and go down hard, like Diem in Vietnam in the 1960s who didn’t realize his time in America’s lap was up, or he can leave Ukraine a “hero,” beaten but never broken, book and biopic movie deal, presidential medal ceremony in the White House, yada yada.

    Biden at some point (it took decades in Afghanistan) will realize he misunderstood his adversary and seek to cut and run. It seems we are close. Zelensky’s propaganda campaign, the atrocity of the day/hero of the day scheme, has failed to bring NATO into the war. Americans get bored easily. He’s just about jumped the shark. If Russians bombing a children’s hospital isn’t enough, there is no enough.

    International affairs researcher Matthew Waldman wrote, “‘strategic empathy’ isn’t about agreeing with an adversary’s position. It is about understanding it so you can fashion an appropriate response.” That is the key to some sort of resolution in Ukraine, and the key to a more effective foreign policy for the US going forward. This is all uncomfortable for most Americans, raised on a steady diet of if we do it is right and moral, if they do it it is evil. But given the dubious success record of this policy across US-supported dictatorships of the Middle East, and Central and South America, and failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and likely soon, Ukraine, maybe a new way forward is worth a look.

     

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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 Military

    Tell Me How This Ends in Ukraine

    March 21, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    In the opening days of Iraq War 2.0, a wiser but not yet-General David Petraeus famously asked “Tell me how this ends.” Petraeus understood how wars end is more important than why they started or how they were carried out. So how does the current war in Ukraine end?

    Petraeus, for his part, said with a straight face “Russia doesn’t have the numbers and beyond that everyone in the entire country hates them and most of the adults are willing to take action against them, whether it’s to take up weapons or to be human shields.” While accurately describing the roots of his own failure in Iraq, Petraeus misses the point. America’s goal was to create a neocon version of democracy in the Middle East. Putin seeks something much simpler: a classic buffer territory between him and NATO. He does not care about hearts and minds. He only has to break things.

    The early days of the Ukraine war have been dominated by propaganda riven with sympathy for the plucky defenders. This purposefully created a false sense Russian setbacks and a misunderstanding of Russian strategy. The Russians are executing a standard mechanized warfare maneuver in line with their goals, attacking south from Belarus to link up with forces attacking northward from Crimea. When they link up south of Kiev, Ukraine will be split into two. Kiev may be bypassed, or it may be destroyed, but that is secondary to the larger strategic maneuver. Another Russian thrust from east to west seeks to cut the nation into quarters so Ukrainian forces cannot reinforce one another. Forget all the silliness about the Russians running out of gas; their supply lines are short (many Russian forces are within 70 miles of their own border), protected, and over decent roads. This is what is happening on the ground and Ukrainian forces are in no position to do anything but delay it. Watching war through a smartphone from a peaceful country may help you believe the Russian assault is going poorly but that is at odds with the facts. So here’s how that all ends.

    The Best Case for Everyone is the Russians, perhaps under the guise of some humanitarian gesture, withdraw to the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine and some strategic points, things like bridges and airports. Ukraine is essentially divided into two semi-states, the western half nominally under NATO control and the eastern half a Russian buffer zone with a new Iron Curtain in place. Putin settles back into his easy chair. His brush back pitch to Ukraine dealt out a serious spanking, he holds some new territory as a prize, he can announce victory at home, and his troops are better positioned if he needs to push west ever again. NATO meanwhile can also claim some measure of victory, validating all the propaganda about the valiant Ukrainian people. The status quo of Europe resets and after a decent interval the oil and gas restart flowing westward.

    Putin made this strategy clear in his asks for a cease fire, that Ukraine accept demilitarization, declare itself neutral, and drop its bid to join NATO. He does not really want the cities, and he does not want to occupy a hostile population. That is why he agreed to safe corridors westward for refugees and why he has held back sustained shelling and rocketing of Kiev, for now. Depopulation aids Putin in neutering eastern Ukraine, and avoids later ethnic conflict between Ukrainian nationalists and the local Russian population.

    The Next Best Case is NATO makes a secret agreement to keep Ukraine out of the alliance in return for Putin withdrawing in whole or in part (see above.) This is very tricky diplomacy, as it cannot appear NATO appeased Putin and it cannot seem in the eyes of the world that Putin “lost.” The Russians would be very tempted to leak the secret agreement to show they had achieved their goal, and the resulting denials from NATO and the US would seem shallow. The rest of eastern Europe would take note on who they could trust. This scenario is also unlikely, as it requires Russia to trade land for a promise from the West. Putin knows nothing short of a NATO strike can dislodge him from eastern Ukraine and thus has no incentive to leave.

    A Very Bad Case would be a decision by Putin to occupy or destroy Ukraine, install a puppet government, and roll his army right to the Polish border as if it was 1975 all over again. Putin certainly is holding this out as a threat if Zelensky ignores western pleas to cut a deal. Russian troops are positioning to assault the cities. Ask people of Aleppo and Grozny if they think Putin would turn them loose.

    The idea may prove tempting to Putin. He can claim full victory, be done forever with the Ukrainian problem, leave NATO looking emasculated, strike fear into the other former satellites, and leave Joe Biden out of a job in his self-proclaimed role as leader of the free world. Biden has overplayed his hand, not recognizing there is almost nothing he can do to affect the situation on the ground. Sanctions did not stop Putin from invading (Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine…) and sanctions will not cause Putin to retreat. Biden, like Putin, knows most Russian oil and gas exports are untouchable if he wants to keep the Europeans on the team.

    But the biggest problem for Biden is history (and voters) remembering him as the president who watched the Iron Curtain rebuilt. Unlike Obama’s cool reaction to Putin invading Crimea in 2014, Biden has vowed to “save” Ukraine as if he was fighting Corn Pop again. By claiming in his State of the Union address that Putin had “shaken the very foundations of the free world,” Biden has created the impression he is going to put a stop to something of that scale. Such predictions carry an incredible political risk, especially for a commander in chief who also promised a weary America it is not going to war. As NBC’s Chuck Todd put it “I fear this is going to feel like a speech that didn’t age well.” Following the sad, embarrassing finale in Afghanistan, any ending in Ukraine that looks like a Putin win after all this saber rattling pretty much ends the effective portion of the Biden presidency.

    That leaves only to consider The Horrible Case, where someone in NATO tries for a no-fly zone, or sets up a refugee protected zone, as was done in the former Yugoslavia. Ukrainian propaganda is aimed at making this happen; Zelensky knows partisans with rifles are only going to get him so far. He needs direct Western military intervention to survive. And a non-partisan 74 percent of Americans say NATO should impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine.

    Consider the tinder in place. If you believe the CIA and US special forces are not on the ground already in Ukraine, parsing intel and advising, well… We know US spy planes and drones are overhead. Imagine an incident where an American is taken prisoner by the Russians. Imagine the US providing a weapons system that requires “trainers,” in the way Russian trainers manned ground-to-air facilities in past Cold War wars in South East Asia and the Middle East. Or maybe a border incident, real or imagined, with NATO member Poland to try and force NATO into the fight. Or a UN demand for some peacekeeping force stop Putin’s war crimes. Maybe a “one time surgical strike” for humanitarian reasons on a Russian column threatening a hospital?

    Not on a menu is another Afghanistan (US or Soviet version) or some sort of open-ended Ukrainian insurgency. What Putin is doing is an old school war to grab territory, not changing allegiance among the Taliban. His supply routes are short, his troops fighting the modern battle they trained for, albeit outside Kiev and not in the Fulda Gap. Unlike Afghanistan, Ukraine has cities dependent on modern infrastructure, and cities are easily encircled, besieged and starved out, or just leveled.

    Equally not going to happen is some sort of regime change inside Russia. Putin has been in charge for 22 years and controls the media, the military, and the intelligence services. Those were the people who brought Putin to power in Russia’s last coup. There is no means to the end the West wishes for, and no clear evidence the people of Russia want such as outcome in the first place. After all, a million pink hats in Washington accomplished… very little. A few protests scattered across the vastness of Russia are exaggerated for a Western audience. Western sanctions will not drive ordinary Russians to demand change. Remember how well US sanctions to bring about regime change have gone in Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea? Decades of sanctions have not changed Putin, and the new ones have no beef on them to change that. And as for the West’s dream of a coup, what could make life more interesting than the world’s second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons having no one firmly in charge?

    Anything can happen, but Putin “losing” in Ukraine seems among the most unlikely of scenarios.

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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 Military

    Deterrence Works, Propaganda Fails in Ukraine (So Far)

    March 18, 2022 // 7 Comments »

    Deterrence works. Russia’s nukes are the only thing keeping the US from full-out war in Ukraine only six months after retreating from Afghanistan. So far, the unprecedented propaganda effort by the Ukraine and its helpers in the American mass media to drag the US and NATO directly into the fight has failed. But this struggle — for your mind space — is not over.
    To understand what follows, you have to wipe away a lot of bullshit being slung your way. Putin is not insane, not a madman. He is carrying out a rational political-military strategy in Ukraine, seizing Russian-speaking territory such as Donbas, demilitarizing by force the eastern Ukraine, and most of all creating a physical buffer zone between himself and NATO. That zone may end at the Dnieper River with a loop around Odessa, or it may end at the Polish border, depending on how smoothly things go on the ground and on what level of “stay away” message Putin wishes to send to NATO. Putin is not making the first moves toward some greater conquest. All the bad takes saying “if we don’t stop Putin now, he’ll invade Moldova/Estonia/Poland/all Europe just like Hitler” ignores the part about the German military in WWII having some 18 million men under arms. The Russian army today has 1.3 million, the best of which are going to be in Ukraine for awhile.
    Every war has its “is the juice worth the squeeze” question. In other words, is what you can realistically hope to achieve worth the cost of getting it? For Putin, that means solving his border problem at the cost of maybe a few thousand men killed and wounded and another dollop of weak sanctions. He understood the needs of Europe meant sanctions would never harm sales of the fossil fuels which make up most Russian exports. But no Paypal for you, comrade! Putin could also look to history and see how decades of sanctions have not changed much in Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
    Putin most importantly also knew US/NATO would not fight him on the ground for fear of starting a nuclear war. That is exactly what nukes are for, and is the history of the Cold War in a sentence. I have nukes and that allows me to do certain things any way I want because they stay below the threshold of risking atomic war. This is why the US could destroy Quaddafi and Saddam (no nukes to deter) and why the US will never attack North Korea (nukes.) Being a nuclear superpower makes things easier; the US can fight all over Central America and the Middle East, and Russia in the ‘Stans, and none of that is important enough to consider using nukes to stop.
    Putin knows that. Biden knows that, as does NATO. Ukraine, however, is still thinking it can change the game.
    Ukraine knew on Day One no one was coming to its rescue, and its leaders know they don’t have enough men or weapons to defeat the Russians on their own. Their only hope to remain a unified nation (it is easy to imagine a divided Ukraine, Western Zone and Eastern (Russian) Zone as the end game) is outside help. A no-fly zone, some air strikes to blunt Russian advances. Something, anything.
    That’s why every knucklehead in America right now is being blitzed with Ukrainian propaganda, and your brother-in-law is ready to head to Europe with his never-cleaned hunting rifle. The goal is to change public opinion such that a weak guy like Joe Biden starts to doubt himself. Ukrainian lobbyists from K Street take influential Senators to lunch, knowing they’ll return to their offices to find thousands of constituent emails demanding the US “do something.” The goal of Ukrainian propaganda is get Biden to take that Pentagon meeting laying out options for some limited bombing, or to listen to those analysts saying the US could set up a small no-fly zone on Ukraine’s western edge to show the Russians we mean business. Drop in some Special Forces. Something, anything. The goal of the propaganda is to get Biden to sign off on something (hopefully) small enough that it falls below the threshold of provoking a nuclear response. Is it necessary to say that is a very risky and delicate tasking?
    The bad news is Ukrainian propaganda is working. A non-partisan 74 percent of Americans say NATO should impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine. And we are just getting started. We’ve had the hero phase with the non-existent Ghost of Kiev and the not surrendering but they surrendered brave Ukrainians, alongside the grandmas and supermodels with guns. We’ve had the Russians are going to kill us all phase, with the faux threat of invasion to the west and the faux scare the Russians were going to create a Chernobyl-like nuclear accident by shelling a power plant. We are currently moving into the not verifiable atrocities phase, where “reports” will claim the Russians are killing children, or using rape as a weapon, or targeting hospitals. Alongside it all is beef cake talk about Zelensky, the likes we haven’t seen since before the cancelations of Andrew Cuomo and Michael Avenatti. The fact-checking mania of Covid is history as America media removes all the filters on pro-Ukrainian content.
    The quality of the propaganda is not important (any pile of scrap metal on snowy ground is breaking news of another Russian helo shot down, even if the metal has “Acme Junk Pile” written on it.) The quantity is important, the attempt to overwhelm American mindspace to the point where logic is shoved into the back corner. There is a growing cottage industry of “experts” explaining how to can go to war without going to THAT kind of war. Dissenting voices are few, and are often labeled as “Putin lovers,” with progressives and Late Night hurling homophobic slurs at them like high school kids.
    It is not like America does not know how to step away from a fight which isn’t ours when we want to. Crimea, Chechnya, Rwanda, Hungary ’56, Czechoslovakia ’68, Afghanistan ’79, even to a certain extent in Syria 2016.
    There are two battles now playing out over Ukraine. The one on the ground, and the one on your social media seeking to drag America into the mud. Only six months after the sad ending in Afghanistan, it is stunning to watch America again contemplate going to war for some abstract purpose far removed from our own core interests. And this time, with the risk of a nuclear exchange to remind us of our mistake, not just an inglorious departure from Kabul.

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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 Military

    The Case for Impeachment Is…

    November 5, 2019 // 10 Comments »


    On Thursday Nancy Pelosi held a vote to, well, reaffirm her impeachment inquisitiveness. It was theatre; everyone knows the hyper-politicized Democratic House will impeach. It’s a weak case, but that doesn’t matter. A partisan Senate (who will also see a weak case but that doesn’t matter) won’t convict. America will leave that steaming mound of democracy aside the road and reflect forever which side stepped in it after we’re done arguing who won in November 2020.

    So looking at the actual evidence for impeachment is mostly academic. Call it… quaint.

    Forget the whistleblower; he had one job, to start this all into motion in August in time for the autumn session of Congress and he did it even without any first hand knowledge of a “high crime and misdemeanor,” just an opinion on a phone call he wasn’t party to. Yet even after DOJ ruled the whistleblower revealed no criminal act, Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment “inquiry.”

    Trump then released the memorandum of conversation between himself and Ukrainian president Zelensky. This is the U.S. government’s record of what was said. That record will form near 100 percent of what Dems will use to impeach Trump. After all, it is the only primary document/first hand “testimony” in the case. Yet despite its short length, some five pages, many people prefer to characterize what it says instead of just reading the thing. So follow along if you like.

    The call was a routine congratulatory message to Zelensky on his election. So the first couple of exchanges are chit chat along those lines. We’re on page three before the first bit of possible significance comes. Here it is in its entirety:

    “The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows alot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are alot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance. But they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”

    Zelensky gives a generally positive reply. There is nothing to indicate he feels pressured, bothered, evasive, defensive or concerned.

    Trump again: “Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney·General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”

    That’s it for substance.

     

    To impeach, one must be willing to conclude from the text above

    a) Trump asking for information, however far-fetched one may believe it is, on possible foreign interference in the 2016 election was wrong (and then explain why the Dems conducted a three year investigation of the same);

    b) Trump asking for an investigation into whether then-Vice President and perhaps soon President Biden used his office for personal gain is of no interest to the people of the United States, even if that same information were also of great interest to Trump (and account for Dems asking in 2018 the Ukraine to cooperate with Mueller to dig up dirt on Trump, and allowing that a Ukrainian investigation would exonerate Biden as Dems claim); and

    c) that Trump made it clear to Zelensky aid was contingent on conducting these investigations given Trump made no mention of that.

     

    If you can prove that from the memorandum of conversation, well then pilgrim, you have a case. And remember, you have to use Trump’s words. You can’t do it with Godfather references to consiglieres, third-party opinions of this all, or by characterizing Trump’s words — pressured, demanding, weaponized, implored, forced, quid pro quo — to your advantage.

    The base problem is  Trump never said anywhere in the July 25 call he was withholding aid for Ukraine and there is no evidence Zelensky knew Trump had been slow walking it at the time of the call. The earliest tick the Ukrainians even knew the aid was being delayed was “early August” and even those claims are based on anonymous sources in the NYT who somehow have not been found to testify by the Dems. Official U.S. and Ukrainian sources instead say knowledge the funds were held up didn’t get to the Ukranians until late August, shortly before they were released. (Dems made a stink then claiming the funds were held up by Trump to favor Putin. It’s always something.)

    It is thus supposition at best that Trump’s requests, assuming they were pressure at all and Zelensky’s easy going responses suggests he was not bothered by them, were connected in any way to the aid. Correlation is not causation. This was the big gap in Russiagate; because A happened before B, Democrats rushed to claim A must have caused B, and thus collusion!

    And that leads to a second base problem. Nothing happened. Trump never even asked the Attorney General to contact Zelensky. It is unclear who if anyone Guiliani spoke with, but either way there is no evidence the Ukrainians ever investigated anything. This impeachment will be the first in American history without any underlying crime asserted. Democrats seek to impeach Trump for talking about something, and never doing something, that itself may not be a real offense anyway. If you hear echoes of Russiagate, of obstructing something that wasn’t actually obstructed, you have sharp ears.

    When you have a smoking gun you usually don’t need to keep searching for evidence, but that is exactly what the Democrats are doing. Knowing the weakness in their case — it is literally based on a partisan reading of Trump’s own words and the supposition that two events, the call and the aid holdup, are causational — Dems are engaged in a process of finding someone to claim Trump’s policy was to (not) withhold aid to force the Ukraine to do something they never did.

    Ambassador Gordon Sondland stated specifically, under oath recently and in a leaked text from around the time of the original call, there was no such quid pro quo. So did Trump and Zelensky.

    The Dems in turn produced a series of angry State Department people to testify they had been sidelined out of the decision making process and thus knew very little first hand. The noisiest witness, Ambassador William Taylor, made it clear he was cut out of the White House’s backchannel for Ukrainian policy, and only knew what insiders Ambassadors Volker and Sondland told him second hand. His other knowledge of the supposed quid pro quo came when he heard “a [unnamed] staff person from the Office of Management and Budget say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine but could not say why. Toward the end of an otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call — the [unnamed] person was off-screen — said that she was from OMB and that her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice.”

    Taylor even went on to impeach himself a little, admitting he had no evidence aid was connected to investigation. He testified National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs Fiona Hill and the NSC’s Director of European Affairs Alex Vindman “reassured me that they were not aware of any official change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, OMB’s announcement notwithstanding.”

    Taylor never spoke to the president. He did not speak to the Secretary of State, or any other senior White House official. He was cut out of the loop. His testimony was just his opinion. Deep Throat that is not.

    What else? The media found a way to wordtrick Ambassador Sondland’s attorney into saying what his client described in testimony “amounted to” a quid pro quo, possibly thinking they would use a client’s own lawyer’s recharacterization of testimony to impeach.

    There are no documents, policy papers, notes, memcons, texts, or anything at all to support the claim the White House policy was aid for investigation.

     

    Imagine in a real trial how a defense lawyer would cross examine Taylor, or any of the other witnesses who have no actual knowledge:

    Did you ever speak directly with Trump about this quid pro quo? How do you know it was his policy? Pompeo? Mulvaney? Exactly who in the WH did you ever speak to to learn this is the policy?

    If the answer is “no one in the WH” how do you know this was the policy? Who told you in explicit terms?

    So where is the investigation into Biden you say we paid for? Why would Trump demand that quid pro quo but never follow through?

    Why wasn’t Ukraine told the aid was being withheld? Wouldn’t it be necessary for Ukraine to clearly and explicitly KNOW the aid was being withheld for this to be a quid pro quo?

    Isn’t it true there is no quid, and no pr quo at all, except in your supposition? What the heck grounds of impeachment is that?

    Actually, why was the aid paid out without an investigation?

    Why are you claiming something happened when it did not happen?

    Isn’t your testimony about what you personally thought Trump was thinking about something that didn’t happen, even though it never happened?

    Other than your own supposition, how exactly do you know Trump’s intent? Any documents? Any evidence besides saying we should believe you over others?

    Do you have any documents, notes, Memcons, texts, anything at all to support your supposition that the White House policy was literal aid for investigation? If not, why not? Because they do not exist? Because this is all your interpretation?

    Why does Ambassador Sonderland say the intent was different? Is he lying? Are you?

     

    Much is also being made of Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman allegedly telling impeachment investigators the July 25 memcon omitted references to tapes of Biden discussing Ukrainian corruption, and Zelensky mentioning the company Biden’s son worked for in Ukraine.

    Such omissions (if they are real and there is no evidence besides Vindman’s own statement) add or detract nothing from the core questions at the heart of this impeachment: did Trump withhold aid in return for a Ukrainian investigation, and was seeking such an investigation solely a personal political goal or something of interest to the United States.
    Vindman’s remarks are also helpful in setting the stage for Democrats to downplay the memcon, the official USG record of the July 25 phone call. As the sole primary document in the entire case, the memcon should be all the evidence needed to vote on impeachment. The fact that it is not a smoking gun is a fundamental weakness in the Dems’ case. So anything which can be manipulated to lessen the memcon’s value is welcomed by the MSM and Democrats. Expect to see more of this — Are there recordings? What do the ellipses in the memcon really mean? What else is missing!?!?!?
    It’s an old trick; find a way to discredit the other side’s best witness. The breaking news coverage Vindman’s grumping about his edits not making the final cut offers an important lesson: as with Russiagate, critical thinkers will be constantly challenged by some new shiny but irrelevant object. Always returning to the core questions is the way forward.

     

    Reminiscent of the high hopes once held that Flynn, Manafort, Cohen, et al, would flip, Democratic plans for a slam dunk currently rest on John Bolton, a deep conservative nearing the end of his public life. They hope he will testify such that the last lines of his biography will call him “the man who more than any other individual helped elect Elizabeth Warren.” Sorry, Bolton is not gonna be your Fredo.

    Unlike with Nixon and Clinton, the House is not building its case on the foundation of an existing law enforcement investigation. That was supposed to be what happened with the Mueller saga. Instead, this time the case is built on a single phone call, with the “investigation”jerry-rigged in real-time consisting of a semi-secret, stage-managed parade of credentialed hostile witnesses interpreting what Trump said in the call. Imagine a room full of critics impeaching Bob Dylan by telling us what his lyrics really mean to him. Opinions are not evidence. Case closed.

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