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Ted Galen Carpenter

This Time, NATO Better Take Putin’s Ukraine Warnings Seriously

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In one of the great foreign policy blunders of modern times, US and European leaders repeatedly disregarded Vladimir Putin’s warnings that Russia would never tolerate Ukraine becoming a NATO military asset. Because of resistance from the French and German governments (which had as much to do with Ukraine’s chronic corruption as with concerns about Russia’s reaction), the Alliance delayed offering Kyiv a Membership Action Plan – an essential step toward membership. Nevertheless, at the 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO’s existing members ostentatiously insisted that "someday" Ukraine would join the Alliance, and they repeated that pledge on numerous occasions thereafter.

Worse, Western officials typically insisted that Russia would have nothing to say about the matter. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, was especially blunt and arrogant on that score. He summarily rejected Moscow’s demands in late 2021 that NATO provide binding security guarantees to Russia, including a commitment that Ukraine would never be offered membership, and that NATO military forces would not be deployed in that country. Stoltenberg’s response could not have been more uncompromising. "NATO has an open-door policy. This is enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty … The message today to Russia is that it is for Ukraine as a sovereign nation to decide its own path. And for the 30 NATO allies to decide when Ukraine is ready to become a member."

Western officials implicitly assumed that Russia could be intimidated and eventually compelled to accept Ukraine as part of NATO. They dismissed the Kremlin’s increasingly pointed warnings that efforts to make Kyiv an Alliance asset would cross a red line that violated Russia’s security. Their assumption that Moscow would tamely accept a NATO presence inside Russia’s core security zone proved to be spectacularly wrong, and Ukraine is now paying a very high price in treasure and blood for their miscalculation.
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Risking Nuclear War for a Corrupt, Increasingly Repressive Ukraine

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Fortunately, President Biden thus far has rejected the most risky policies that hawks are pushing in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite being under intense pressure, he continues to rule out proclaiming a no-fly zone, and he flatly rejects suggestions (including from one close political ally) that he consider sending US troops to Ukraine. However, even the policies the administration has embraced entail an unacceptable risk of entangling the United States in a military confrontation with a nuclear-armed power. The United States and some NATO allies are pouring increasingly sophisticated weapons into Ukraine to bolster that country’s resistance to the invasion. Russia recently reiterated its warning that such shipments are legitimate military targets. In addition to lavishing arms on Ukraine, Washington is sharing key military intelligence with Kyiv. The United States is skirting very close to becoming an outright belligerent in an extremely dangerous war.

It would be imprudent for US leaders to put America at such risk even if Ukraine were the most splendid, pristine democracy in history. It is utterly irresponsible to do so for an appalling corrupt and increasingly authoritarian country. Yet that is an accurate characterization of today’s Ukraine.

The twin problems of corruption and repression were evident well before Russia launched its invasion. Ukraine has long been one of the more corrupt countries in the international system, and that situation did not improve appreciably after the so-called Orange Revolution put pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko in the presidency in January 2005. Corruption charges continuously plagued Yushchenko’s presidency. The optics were not improved by his 19-year-old son’s ostentatious lifestyle, including tooling around the streets of Kyiv in a new BMW sports car worth $120,000. Media accounts proliferated about the apparent financial improprieties involving the president and his family.
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The US Press Again Becomes a Conduit for Pro-War Propaganda

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American journalists have a long, ignoble history of being willing conduits for pro-war propaganda. Usually, that behavior is in service to a military crusade that Washington has launched or wants to initiate. At times, though, such a betrayal of journalistic integrity occurs on behalf of a foreign country that both US political leaders and news media elites have adopted as a favorite cause. We are currently witnessing the latter phenomenon with respect to news coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The dominant media narrative is that the US government (and all Americans) must "stand with Ukraine" in the latter’s resistance to Russian aggression. The identification with Ukraine’s cause is now nearly total, and it is infused with arrogant righteousness. Noticeably missing is any sense, once so powerful in US foreign policy and general discourse, that America’s interests often are – and should be – distinct from the interests and objectives of any foreign country.

The emotionalism and shallowness is most evident with the television coverage of the conflict. American viewers are inundated with images of exploding shells from the invading Russian forces, sights of desperate, tearful refugees (mostly women and children) fleeing the invaders, and shots of other determined Ukrainian civilians arming themselves to defend their country. Television is a visual medium that always tries to evoke emotions among viewers, but that element has become truly over-the-top regarding treatment of the Ukraine war. Providing a deluge of images showing traumatized civilian refugees adds little to anyone’s understanding of the roots of the conflict, its underlying issues, or its likely outcome.
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Hawks Make Little Distinction Between Russia and the Soviet Union

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Foreign policy hawks in the United States habitually equate a noncommunist Russia with the totalitarian Soviet Union. An especially graphic example is a recent article in 19FortyFive by Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. The title, "Russia Was a Rogue State Long before Ukraine and Georgia," accurately conveys the extent of Rubin’s Russophobia. Predictably, he blames Moscow entirely for the 2008 Georgia war, even though a European Union investigation concluded that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s forces initiated the fighting. Likewise, he studiously ignores the assistance that the United States and some of its European allies gave demonstrators who unseated Ukraine’s elected, pro-Russian president as a trigger for Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea.

No, according to Rubin, such episodes are indicative of Vladimir Putin’s strategy to "recreate the Soviet Union in all but name." He then condemns the administrations of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden for insufficient resolve in the face of such malignant, imperial ambitions. However, Rubin asserts that the "real problem is deeper. Russia’s aggression and sense of impunity did not begin with Georgia, but rather with Japan. In the tail end of World War II, Russia seized southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands from Japan."

There’s just one problem with his thesis: The seizure of territory from Japan was made by the Soviet Union. There was no independent "Russia" in 1945, and it reflects extreme intellectual laziness to use the terms interchangeably, as Rubin and some other analysts do. During the Soviet era, Russia was just one component of the USSR, albeit the largest one. Moreover, it is incorrect to assume that ethnic Russians always ran the communist state. The longest-tenured Soviet dictator (who ruled for nearly 3 decades) was Joseph Stalin – a Georgian, not a Russian. Nikita Khrushchev, who led the USSR for more than a decade, was ethnically Russian but grew up in Ukraine and was culturally Ukrainian. Indeed, according to his great-granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva, he was exceptionally fond of Ukraine. It probably was not a coincidence that Khrushchev was the person who made the decision to transfer Crimea, which had been part of Russia since 1782, to Ukraine.
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Some Light Is Being Shed on the Dubious Origins of the Russia Collusion Scandal

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US Attorney and Special Counsel John H Durham’s laborious investigation into the origins of allegations that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign illegally colluded with Russia’s government finally seems to be bearing fruit. In the latest development, a federal grand jury indicted Igor Danchenko, who was the primary researcher for claims that went into the Steele dossier, a compendium of salacious rumors and reports that Russian intelligence had obtained highly compromising material on Trump, causing him then to conspire with Moscow to help defeat Hillary Clinton and to otherwise serve Russia’s interests.

Danchenko was the second major figure associated with the questionable origins of the "Russiagate" scandal that dominated political debate and news media coverage throughout Trump’s presidency to be indicted. In mid-September, a grand jury indictment was handed down against cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, for lying to the FBI. Both Sussmann and Danchenko had worked for firms that the Clinton campaign employed to promote the Steele dossier and other Russia collusion allegations. The affiliations of the two men raise new doubts about the sourcing for the Steele dossier and the other "evidence" against Trump

These developments are potentially very significant. The Steele dossier was an important (perhaps even the key) catalyst for the "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation into the Trump campaign that the FBI launched in late summer 2016. It is hard to believe that even the usually rubber stamp Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court would have issued investigative warrants based on what meager justifications the FBI had absent the overblown Steele dossier. Indeed, the FBI had to go to great (and unethical) lengths to perpetuate the investigation once the Steele dossier began to unravel.
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Just Whose Coast Is the Coast Guard Guarding?

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Most Americans likely assume that the mission of the US Coast Guard is to protect the coasts of the United State from maritime threats. Increasingly, though, that is no longer true, as Coast Guard vessels and personnel now routinely operate thousands of miles from the US homeland. Moreover, they frequently are not engaged in "defensive" missions, but are instead part and parcel of Washington’s arrogant force projection around the world.

The traditional missions were not always sensible or achievable ones, to be sure. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Coast Guard cutters were tasked with trying to intercept shipments of liquor trying to reach thirsty consumers in the United States. Not surprisingly, that mission proved to be utterly futile and frustrating. More recently, the Coast Guard (along with other agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration) has pursued a similar quixotic effort to intercept vessels carrying cargoes of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other currently illegal drugs. Indeed, the Coast Guard itself boasts that it is "the nation’s first line of defense" against drug smugglers.

During both prohibition crusades, such efforts have proven more symbolic than substantive. Authorities confiscate only about 10 percent of the targeted contraband, and bootleggers and drug traffickers simply write-off such losses as part of the normal cost of doing business. Attempts to hype successful intercepts do not change that economic reality.
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How the National Security State Manipulates the News Media

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An especially dangerous threat to liberty occurs when members of the press collude with government agencies instead of monitoring and exposing the abuses of those agencies. Unfortunately, collusion is an all-too-common pattern in press coverage of the national security state’s activities. The American people then receive official propaganda disguised as honest reporting and analysis.

The degree of collaboration frequently has reached stunning levels. During the early decades of the Cold War, some journalists even became outright CIA assets. Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein’s January 1977, 25,000-word article in Rolling Stone was an extraordinarily detailed account of cooperation between the CIA and members of the press, and it provided key insights into that relationship. In some cases, the "journalists" were actually full-time CIA employees masquerading as members of the Fourth Estate, but Bernstein also confirmed that some 400 bona fide American journalists had secretly carried out assignments for the ClA during the previous 25 years. He noted that "journalists provided a full range of clandestine services – from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs."

A December 26, 1977, investigative report in the New York Times described the scope of the CIA’s global campaign to influence opinion through media manipulation. "In its persistent efforts to shape world opinion, the C.I.A. has been able to call upon" an extensive network "of newspapers, news services, magazines, publishing houses, broadcasting stations and other entities over which it has at various limes had some control.
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Ugly Yankee: Washington Continues To Bully Mexico on the Drug War

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A nasty spat has emerged between the US and Mexican governments about alleged official corruption and drug trafficking. The latest incident began on October 16, 2020, when US authorities arrested Mexico’s former defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, at Los Angeles International Airport on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Cienfuegos Zepeda was a major player in Mexico’s military and political affairs, leading the country’s armed forces for six years under former president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government protested, contending that Washington overstepped its authority and arguing that the allegations against Cienfuegos Zepeda were flimsy, at best. Lopez Obrador himself accused the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of "meddling" and failing to take any responsibility for its own long-standing relationship with the general. The case took an unexpected turn on November 17 when the US Justice Department, apparently responding to Lopez Obrador’s complaints, abruptly withdrew the charges and returned Cienfuegos Zepeda to Mexico.

But US drug warriors were not content to let tensions subside. Instead, they threatened to revive the prosecution of Cienfuegos Zepeda. The Justice Department and the DEA were especially upset when the Mexican government released details from shared documents that indicated just how flimsy Washington’s case might be. Angry US officials were adamant that they didn’t appreciate such unilateral efforts at transparency, and they hinted darkly that the move might jeopardize relations. Lopez Obrador responded with renewed, pointed criticism of Washington’s growing pressure. He also escalated his own criticism of Washington’s corruption allegations against Cienfuegos Zepeda, now accusing the DEA of "fabricating" the charges.
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The Futility and Cruelty of Washington’s Economic Sanctions

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A perennial favorite tactic for officials running U.S. foreign policy has been to impose economic sanctions on countries whose governments defy Washington’s wishes. Sanctions enjoy a reputation among the policy elite of being the responsible "middle option" between relying solely on diplomacy or using military force when dealing with an adversary.
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How the Media Has Whitewashed FBI Abuses in the Russia Probe

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The mainstream media not only continues to parrot the narrative that President Donald Trump is a Russian asset who collaborated with Moscow to steal the 2016 presidential election, but journalists have also minimized or dismissed evidence about FBI abuses during the course of the investigation into those allegations.

One point that emerged clearly when Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued his report in December 2019 was that the FBI had committed serious violations of its own procedures and basic requirements of due process. The scope and severity of that misconduct have become even more apparent with the passage of time.

Although Horowitz did not endorse the Trump White House’s core allegation that the FBI had initiated the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation of the Trump campaign out of political bias, the IG report identified 17 major instances of improper behavior, including violations of standard procedures and safeguards for the rights of individuals targeted in an investigation. Most of the abuses occurred with respect to investigative warrants aimed at Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Especially disturbing violations included the withholding of exculpatory evidence in warrant applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Among the offenses was the repeated failure to disclose that Page was working for the CIA during the period he was making contact with Russian diplomatic and intelligence officials. In one instance, FBI assistant general counsel Kevin Clinesmith even altered a document to make it state the opposite of its original language about Page’s role.
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