Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

Loyal Opposition

Donald Trump has appointed Rex Tillerson, the sitting CEO of ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State. Which is really weird. Why are Democrats focused on something relatively minor: his relationship with Russia?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why I Miss the Berlin Wall

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This week’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brought me back, not to warm fuzzies about peace and freedom and Gipper Ron Ron and winning the Cold War, but the reaction of my former BFF Dan (whom I miss for his talent for lightening-quick, wicked-brilliant repostes).

The Berlin Wall has fallen, I informed him. Germany is reunited.

Thoughts?

“This,” he replied as usual without missing a beat, “is like the reunion tour recently announced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I didn’t care for any of their previous collaborations, and I’m not looking forward to the next one.”

The former two Germanies haven’t given us another Hitler. Not yet. But Germany 2.0 did revive and realize the Führer’s dream of uniting Europe into a unified trading bloc, with a common currency, big enough to give the United States a run for its devalued money. The new euro was, naturally, pegged to the old Deutsche Mark. Germany is by far the most powerful nation in Europe.

Which is a good place to start my List of Reasons I Miss the Berlin Wall.

As usually-correct economist-professor-columnist (and usually ignored) Paul Krugman has pointed out over and over, the German-dominated European Union — which would never have come into being had the Wall remained standing and the Soviet bloc continued to exist — has been an unwieldy amalgam of political autonomy and fiscal union, dragging relatively poorer nations like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (“PIGS”) into a vicious cycle of austerity, budget cuts and seemingly endlessly rising unemployment. “The creation of the euro was about politics and ideology, not a response to careful economic analysis (which suggested from the beginning that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency),” Krugman wrote in May.

Why should hard-working Germans bail out lazy, corrupt Mediterranean nations? Protestant pundits ask. Scratch the surface of the Eurozone crisis and you find that the Germans aren’t the victims here. Far from propping up their swarthy southern partners, Germans are using their control over the euro to turn the PIGS into trade debtors.

Adolf blew his brains out but Germany won the war. Cuz: reunification.

The most important consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall was, of course, the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Economic shock therapy” — U.S.-backed Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s misbegotten attempt to convert the USSR’s state economy to neoliberalist capitalism overnight — led to the infamous Russian Mortality Crisis, when death rates soared 40% in Russia, and even higher in other former Soviet republics.

It has been estimated that 30 million people either died or will die as the result of the catastrophic dissolution of the USSR.

Socialism was destroyed but not replaced. The power vacuum opened by the collapse of the Soviet system was quickly filled by gangsters. Corrupt former factory managers forcibly seized state property and industries whose profits might otherwise have been used to create a blow-softening social safety net for the millions who lost their jobs. Hard drugs from Central Asia and Afghanistan, set free to fall apart after Gorbachev stepped down, supplemented rampant alcoholism. The infamous Russian oligarchy rose during this period, widening the gap between rich and poor, and set the stage for Putinism supported by traumatized Russians who happily chose authoritarianism over the anarchy of the post-Soviet period.

No wonder most Russians tell pollsters they miss the Soviet Union.

Former Soviet client states lost their financial and military backing. Nations like Somalia and Congo disintegrated into bloody civil conflict.

But hey. The demise of the Evil Empire was good for the United States, right?

Not really.

American and European citizens paid trillions for the Cold War. After 1991, pundits promised a “peace dividend” — lower taxes, more public spending on infrastructure and social programs. Barely two years later, the peace dividend was gone — spent, ironically, on the high costs of the Soviet collapse.
“Defense cuts and reductions in military forces have brought in their wake a series of job losses,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported in 1993. “The transitional costs of the end of the Cold War, combined with the inadequacy of government responses across Western Europe, have meant that we are worse, not better, off.”

You’d think that, as believers in the magic of the marketplace, Americans would see the value of competition in the world of ideas, militarily and politically, on the international scene. Whether or not they admit it, however, citizens of the United States have gotten softer and dumber after assuming their status as the world’s last remaining superpower. Unchallenged ideologically and otherwise, Americans questioned themselves and their beliefs in capitalism and American exceptionalism even less after the 1990s than before. But now, as de facto rulers of the last empire, Americans became the obvious targets of choice for opposition forces that want to change the new order, like fundamental Islamist movements.

It’s tough to disagree with the French writer Nicolas Bonnai, who noted in Pravda in 2012: “The US oligarchy [went] berserk, started new wars everywhere with the Bush dynasty and ruined [its] finances. Drastic inequality became the lemma of this crazy society driven by lunatic leaders and wars. Today America leads to nowhere; America is just a [locus] (Al Qaeda) of the new global matrix made of wars and terrors, manipulation and deregulation.”

The fall of the Berlin Wall created at least as many hardships as blessings.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: We’re Not War Weary. We’re Suspicious.

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Americans Aren’t “War Weary.” Obama is Just Lazy.

Americans, our pundit class has decided, aren’t going along with President Obama’s hard-on for firing cruise missiles into Syrian cities because they’re “war weary.”

Bullshit.

True, the wars have cost us. At 12 years and counting, the illegal and unjustified U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is America’s longest war. We’ve been in Iraq — following one of the most brazen acts of aggressive warfare in our blood-soaked history — for 10. Eight thousand American soldiers have gotten themselves killed; more than 50,000 have been wounded.  (To conform to the journalistic standards of U.S.-based opinion writing, I shan’t mention the hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis and so on slaughtered by U.S. invasion forces.)

As tragically wasteful as those casualties have been, the price we’ve paid has been low by historical standards. Roughly 700 U.S. combat deaths a year is a drop in the bucket compared to, say, Vietnam (6,000 a year), Korea (12,000) and World War II (100,000). Unlike those earlier conflicts, the post-9/11 war on terrorism has been a remote, irrelevant abstraction to most Americans.

“Our work is appreciated, of that I am certain,” General Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff told members, told graduates at West Point. “But I fear [civilians] do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.” A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that just a third of Americans aged 18 to 29 have a direct family member who has served in uniform since 9/11 — the lowest rate in memory.

About 2.2 million Americans have served in Afghanistan or Iraq — not much fewer than the 2.7 million who went to Vietnam. The difference is that today’s volunteer military is less broadly representative of American society.

A woman recently introduced me to her brother. “He just got back from Iraq,” she said. “Afghanistan,” he corrected her. His sister! “Thank you for your service,” a man walking told him, without waiting for a reply. The vet’s face hardened. Nobody gets it.

Civilians never did, not fully — but the disconnect was never this big.

“War-weary”? You must first notice something before you can get tired of it.

Until the Syria debate, antiwar liberals like New York Congressman Charles Rangel have been decrying the gap between civilians and the military. His proposed solution? Bring back the draft. Rangel and others reason that if more young people — not just poor, undereducated, underprivileged yokels from the sticks — had “skin in the game,” it would be harder for politicians to start one war after another. “A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war,” Rangel argues. After Obama proposed bombing Syria, Rangel renewed his proposal.

The United States has been at war throughout 90% of its history. I am 50 years old, born a few months before the assassination of JFK; my only peacetime president has been Jimmy Carter. War-weary? Like Orwell’s Oceania, the United States of America is always at war. We love war. War is what America does best, war is what America does most.  War is 54% of the federal budget!

As noted above, there have been relatively few casualties in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Because media coverage has been so sanitized and pro-military, these wars’ gruesome atrocities, the My Lais and napalm attacks — Mahmudiya, Panjwaii, white phosphorus that dissolved people in the battle of Fallujah — have barely been reported, so there have been few Vietnam-type images piped into our living rooms to elicit disgust or guilt. Even the fiscal effects have been deferred; the wars are officially off the books and thus aren’t tallied as part of the budget deficit.

Given how little the current wars have personally affected us, why would we be war-weary?

If Obama doesn’t get his war against Syria, he has no one to blame but himself.

The dude is just lazy.

Think of the list of American wars, just since 1990: the Gulf War, Serbia, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, Libya…it isn’t hard to con Americans into a war. Unlike Bush and his warmongering predecessors, however, Obama isn’t willing to do the propaganda work.

These things can’t be rushed. Bush spent a year and a half making his phony case to invade Iraq. Countless speeches, endless bullying, tons of twisted arguments and faked WMD reports.

Obama wanted to go to war four days after the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. How many Americans were even aware of the story? Remember, this was late summer, peak vacation season. First you tear Americans away from the barbecue, then you get to barbecue the Syrians.

As has been widely noted, Obama’s messaging was all over the place, confusing a public programmed to digest its politics in bumpersticker-length slogans and talking points. Allowing yourself to be seen golfing right after calling for war hardly conveys the requisite sense of menace, much less the urgency of an imminent threat.

When JFK wanted the public to sign off on nuclear brinksmanship with the USSR, he went on television with spy plane photos of Cuba’s missiles. Despite considerable evidence that the rebels or a rogue officer were responsible, Obama says he has proof that the sarin gas attack was ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Yet, unlike Kennedy, he won’t pony up the proof. Why not? As Russian President Vladimir Putin observes, that’s crazy fishy: “Claims that proof exists but is classified and cannot be shown are beneath criticism. If the U.S. says that the al-Assad regime is responsible for that attack and that they have proof, then let them submit it to the U.N. Security Council.”

Militarism is our thing, but Americans need to think their enemies threaten them directly before they’re cool with war.

Team Obama admits that Syria is not a direct or imminent danger to the U.S., but that we must attack them as a deterrent to other supposed future possible maybe enemies, namely Iran and North Korea. No dice. Only one in five Americans buys that. If Iran or North Korea is a threat, then attack those countries, not Syria.

Obama’s verbiage is telling: “I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States.”

Could not honestly claim. As opposed to something like this: “Assad’s use of chemical weapons is not an imminent, direct threat, so we have time for a Congressional debate.”

Americans are good at reading between the lines. Another reason — not war-weariness — that Obama might not get his Syria war.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

The Chechen Connection

Beginning in the mid-1990s under the regime of President Boris Yeltsin and continuing into the early part of the 2000s under Vladimir Putin, Russia fought a so-called “dirty war” against Chechen separatists in a region of the world that military strategists have long considered among the most indomitable. Even in Afghanistan, where many Chechen fighters went to train in Taliban run training camps, they had a reputation for ferocity that frightened many war-hardened Afghans.

As the younger brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is the surviving suspect in the Boston marathon bombings six days ago remained silent and in serious condition in a Boston hospital, and apparently did not issue any public statement about motives, it is impossible to say why – if indeed it was him and his brother – they did it. So what follows is speculation.

We know that older brother Tamerlan – the name of the famous 15th century Central Asian conqueror – visited relatives in Chechnya for about six months in 2012, according to his father, in order to renew his Russian passport. Authorities are currently investigating the possibility that he connected with radical separatist groups during his visit. He posted videos by radical jihadi figures to YouTube when he returned.

Why might a Chechen resent the United States? After all, Russia – not the United States – blasted the capital city of Grozny into smithereens and made countless Chechens vanish into thin air, an act of ethnic cleansing similar to Kosovo. In fact, most Chechen resistance groups focus their rage – and terror attacks – against Moscow and other Russian cities.

Some Chechens charge the United States with a conspiracy of silence with Russia, which they see as an American ally. It is a credible charge. After all, the United States has maintained a close security relationship between the CIA and the successor to the KGB, the FSB, since 1994. That’s why, for example, Tamerlan’s trip to Russia aroused a query from the Russians to their counterparts in the American government.

If you think back to the Carter administration, which made human rights a top priority (albeit inconsistently), there was a time when political dissidents might be able to expect – not in all situations, but often – the US to decry human rights violations such as those that occurred in Chechnya in the late 1990s. Under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, however, US policy was to refuse to comment or to issue low-profile denunciations that escaped the notice of the media. In the same way that so many governments failed to step up and help Jews escape Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, to do nothing (or very little) is to tacitly enable murderers. Silence equals consent.

Now scroll forward to 2013. The United States, which had nothing to say about Russian policy in Chechnya, is engaged in an epic clash of civilizations against Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. (Just yesterday, an American terror drone killed two people in the Obama Administration’s extrajudicial campaign of slaughter of Yemenis.) It’s not a big stretch to imagine the suspects in the Boston marathon bombings thinking that the reason that the United States doesn’t care about what happened to their homeland is that it’s all part of the same policy, that the US and Russia are on the same side, that these two countries are more friends than enemies, Western powers who are trying to destroy Islam.

So why blow up the marathon? If you’re in Boston, you go with the targets that you have. That’s where you live. Why blow up innocents? Because you can’t get at those who were truly responsible, the policymakers in Washington and Moscow. And anyway, you tell yourselves, Americans aren’t really innocent. This is a democracy. We’re responsible for our government. We vote for our leaders. We should rise up and overthrow them if we don’t like them; otherwise, we’re responsible for them. This notion of “collective guilt,” after all, is how the Allies during World War II justified targeting civilians with bombing raids. Osama bin Laden made analogous claims that Americans deserved to be targeted because of their collective guilt.

Ultimately, you wage attacks in order to get attention for a cause that has been ignored. To get the issues you care about discussed and talked about. That’s the purpose of terrorism. Terrorism is the tool of the weak and oppressed against the strong and powerful. It’s asymmetric warfare.

While it will always be impossible to stop terrorism, it’s a fallacy to argue that we can’t reduce its frequency and the likelihood of American targets being attacked again, that we’ll always be targeted no matter what. It just isn’t true. Luxembourg doesn’t have a lot of terrorist bombings. Neither does Belgium – but it would if it still had its big colonial empire. If you don’t invade other countries, if you don’t engage in aggressive foreign policy, if you’re not financing and arming oppressive regimes, you tend not to piss people off.

One could argue that we shouldn’t give in to terrorists by changing our policies. But if our policies are brutal and counterproductive to begin with, it’s a discussion that we should be having.

Right now, to watch the news and watch the so-called experts talk about Boston, it’s pretty clear that they don’t get it. Skirting the issue, they talk about the psychological component, that the two brothers from Chechnya were to some extent alienated from American society. They talk about the success of law enforcement. They talk about privacy and cameras. The Republicans are even talking about this as an excuse not to legalize 11 million illegal immigrants.

But all of these issues are beside the point. The only surprise about Monday’s attack is that such horrific events are so few and far between.