The United States has struggled to find a way to support Syrian rebels without putting American lives at risk, and President Barack Obama has repeatedly rejected proposals to shift from arms dealing to cyberwar. He’s making a prudent choice.
Instead of targeting enemy soldiers, cyberwar targets enemy infrastructure. Just as your own computer can be damaged by being infected with a virus, enemy computers can be compromised with targeted malicious software, but, instead of stealing your credit card number or wiping your hard drive, these attacks can steal battle plans and disable or even destroy weapons systems and infrastructure.
Cyberwar is a tempting option, since it keeps our boots off the ground and out of enemy airspace. One Pentagon plan would have reportedly grounded President Bashar al-Assad’s missiles, preventing him from launching airstrikes without the inconvenience of setting up a no-fly zone or a shield system.
However, the safety Obama would win for our troops abroad could be outweighed by the danger he’d expose us to on the homefront. The very remove that makes cyberwar tempting makes it more likely that, if this kind of conflict is normalized, battles will spill over into the infrastructure of our daily lives. And that’s a theater of operations we’re ill equipped to defend.
Cyberwar favors the smaller side. Developed countries have the most to lose, responsible as they are for power grids, secure databases, banking systems, etc. A digital insurgency is agile and light, with nothing to protect but its own files. Some struggling countries even have even lucked into their own defenses by lagging behind. According to the New York Times,
[Cyberattacks were] considered during the NATO attacks on Libya in the spring of 2011, but dismissed after Mr. Obama’s advisers warned him that there was no assurance they would work against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s antiquated, pre-Internet air defenses.
But this strategy is better suited to self-interested despots like Qaddafi or science fiction like Battlestar Galactica than to a modern nation. The United States will never be in a position to sacrifice prosperity and progress for security through technical regress.
Right now, the United States doesn’t just have weak cyber defenses, but, once a breach occurs, our infrastructure isn’t resilient enough to weather the damage. A recent sniper attack on a California power plant raised concern because our power grid is so delicately balanced that compromising just a few power stations, physically or electronically, would give an attacker the ability to induce a massive blackout, even worse than the one that struck the Northeast in 2003. Read More…
I don’t recall ever feeling such ambivalence about a major political event. Of course it is impossible to not feel exhilarated at the toppling of a corrupt and mendacious Ukrainian autocrat Victor Yanukovich, his flight to parts unknown with his much younger mistress in tow, impossible not to enjoy the press accounts of Ukrainians free to wander about and ogle his palace—the gold toilet, the imported exotic birds, the private golf course, the ridiculous furniture—this caricature of vulgarity, and given the circumstances which financed it, robbery as well. Of course there is much to admire in the young men and women who both waited it out and fought in Kiev’s Maidan, eventually triumphing when the police were no longer willing to defend the Yanukovich presidency. Most Ukranians—a distinct majority—want to move their country towards Europe; they see, and rightly so, post-communist Poland as a huge success. More naively, they believe that the West is a big candy mountain of capitalist plenty, ready to envelop their country into a cornucopia of prosperity.
Ukraine of course had its anti-Russian revolutions before, only ten years ago in fact. The makers of the Orange Revolution made such a mess of things with infighting and corruption that Yanukovich was legitimately voted into power in 2010. Now he has been ousted by young revolutionaries, but if you are a Russian-speaking Ukranian,—perhaps a third of population—you might well think of the Maidan crowds as street mobs with no legitimacy.
Today I attended a lunch forum, a Ukraine policy debate of sorts, at the Council for the National Interest. Speaking for Russia’s perspective was Andranik Migranyan, a “unofficial” advisor to the Putin government and director of a Russian foundation in New York. Representing the American side was Paula Dobriansky, a former ambassador under George W. Bush who in today’s Times lamented the Obama administration’s “absence of strategic vision, disinterest in democracy promotion, and an unwillingness to lead.”
Dobriansky was essentially using Weekly Standard talking points 101. Trouble is, there really is no more certainty that Ukraine would be any more democratic than Iraq. I suspect, without being prepared to debate the point, that Max Blumenthal is far too broadly negative in his portrayal of the Ukranian revolutionary movement as honeycombed with modern day neo-Nazis. But the fact is that Ukraine, for most of its recent history, has had a frightful political culture: basically the country has served as a hothouse and battleground to most some of the brutal forces in world history—communist and fascist both. The title of Timothy Snyder’s celebrated Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin gives a reasonable impression.
That history by itself would make the triumphant integration of “democratic” Ukraine into Western Europe an unlikely proposition. That would be the case whether Europe abrogated its own membership rules to give Ukraine membership on a fast track or left the country on an indeterminate candidate membership period.
But there’s another problem: much of Ukraine, perhaps a third of it, identifies not with the West, but with Russia. And vice versa. Read More…
With the news of the situation in Ukraine dominating the news cycle, less attention is being paid to Venezuela, whose protests have raged on for the last two weeks, steadily gaining momentum and inciting smaller solidarity demonstrations in the U.S. Occasionally referred to by the day of the month in February, for purposes of specificity (for example, 12F, an abbreviated version of the Spanish date 12 de febrero), there have been slightly more than a dozen fatalities, over 200 injuries, and roughly 150 arrests. The protests began peacefully in reaction to the alleged corruption of President Nicholas Maduro’s presidency, but they have since escalated into violent conflict since riot police shot and killed several protesters. The demonstrations are in reaction to Venezuela’s high inflation, rampant crime, scarcity of basic food and medical supplies, and muzzling of free speech. The protesters are calling for Maduro’s resignation and a snap election to replace him. A CNN reporter claimed that he and his fellow journalists had their equipment removed at gunpoint, and over the weekend the Internet was disabled in order to prevent coverage of the events. In spite of the attempts to quash the protest, scores of photographs have been leaked on various social media, depicting both the severity and scale of the protests.
This is largely a student and youth mobilized protest, but many high-profile politicians, military personnel, and high-ranking officials have shown public support. According to a letter written by former defense secretary and political prisoner Ivan Simonovis, the majority of deaths suffered last year were under the age of 30. The young, vivacious former mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza, the leadership of the opposition, turned himself in on Feburary 18th on charges of arson, public disturbance, and inciting violence. In the absence created by Mendoza’s departure, former mayor of the Baruta Municipality Henrique Capriles Radonski has taken up the mantle as the leader of the opposition, and is set to meet with President Maduro on Monday afternoon with other leaders to discuss curtailing the street violence. One of the agenda items to be discussed is the release of Lopez and the handful of other student demonstrators who have since been imprisoned.
In an open letter addressed to Venezuela (translated below), the imprisoned former Minister of Defense Simonovis effectively summarized the motivations of the demonstrations and pledged his full support to the movement:
Leopoldo Lopez interprets the Venezuelan’s discontent manifested in the lack of food, medical supplies, and murder of 25,000 people during 2013 in Venezuela, where the majority of those who perished were under the age of 30. Our security is non-existent, and the young have decided to protest because they have no future, because they see the injustices and want the government takes it upon itself to correcting them.
However ardent his support for the protesters, though, it doesn’t appear that the former minister condones the recent violence; rather, he calls on the government to make the first move to end things peacefully. “The government should understand that the non-violence compromise should come from on both sides, but the first step should be from the side that holding power. Let’s sit down and discuss this.”
It is unlikely that Maduro will capitulate to the protesters’ demands, but the results of the meeting may determine whether or not the violence will ebb or intensify.
It will be difficult returning to the daily grind of American partisan politics, after observing Ukrainians give everything just so that one day their country’s system of government would be mature enough for the only fights to be petty partisan games akin to the charade between Democrats and Republicans.
The collapse of the despotic regime of President Viktor Yanukovych—some are calling this the Maidan Revolution, named after where it started in Independence Square—should cause everyone to pause and appreciate the fundamental freedoms and liberties that enable the partisan bluster and, at times, extreme ideological rhetoric that plague America’s body politic today.
The very idea that Ukrainians would give their life for something that most Americans take for granted was inspiring to say the least.
I will never forget watching a husband console his weeping wife as they learned their son had become a martyr for freedom. The image of her wrapped in the arms of her husband—his eyes revealing his true emotion despite attempting to maintain composure.
Then there is the Greek Catholic priest, who confessed to me that his own faith was challenged as he performed last rites for 15 freedom fighters murdered by regime snipers.
“Seeing the eyes of these fathers and kids was the hardest,” the Rev. Theodos Iveshkiv told me before he prayed at a vigil in the scorched and bloodied no man’s land between the opposition and government barricades during a ceasefire early Friday.
I was embedded for three days with Self-Defense, a volunteer force that is part militia and part constabulary.
Armed mostly with baseball bats and homemade wooden clubs, and wearing everything from surplus military garb to motorcycle and snowmobile helmets with flak jackets, the volunteers of Self-Defense were often little older than high school or college age. Some in the press portrayed Self-Defense and the other activists, who spent much of the last three months in Independence Square, as militant and nationalistic, as if that’s a bad thing. Predictably, Moscow and its surrogates called them fascists leading a “brown revolution,” a not-so-vague reference to Adolf Hitler.
In reality, I found those on the front lines to be the complete opposite.
Sure, there were hard-right elements, but there were also leftists as well as an assortment of liberals (in the classical sense), conservatives and non-ideological everyday Ukrainians. I met management consultants with firms such as Bain & Company, doctors, university graduates and others. Together, they wanted the freedoms and liberties they thought they were promised first with the demise of the Soviet Union and then with Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.
Simply put: This was no Marxist revolution. Rather, it was probably something closer to the Glorious Revolution in Britain, which was the fuel for the Founding Fathers of our own American Revolution. Read More…
Getting here by plane late Thursday evening local time could not have been more different than one might expect, after months of largely peaceful protests by the political opposition culminated in recent days with a series of violent reactions by the embattled Ukrainian president that left dozens of people dead in and around Independence Square.
If one ignored the lack of business travelers—almost all of the premium seats of the kind frequent fliers covet were empty—and the half-dozen journalists picking each other’s brains for any nugget of new information, then this columnist’s KLM flight from Amsterdam to Kiev was beyond mundane.
There were the locals returning home after a getaway to someplace warm with their golden tans a sure giveaway in a sea of pale complexions. Then there were the travelers flaunting carry-on restrictions with their multitude of bags, including visibly large amounts of alcohol purchased from duty-free. If you didn’t know better you might have thought this was the last flight into Flint with weary travelers returning home from far-flung locales.
No noticeable security measures were in place during boarding at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Even the flight attendants were carrying about as if everything was routine. The only bizarre moment came at the end of a mid-flight cockpit announcement when, the self-identified co-pilot, said, “The conditions in Kiev are very nice.” (He presumably meant the weather.)
Surely, the uneventful nature of the flight had a calming effect on the passengers, who all knew the situation in the Ukrainian capital was hardly predictable. It was almost as if KLM told its staff to be extra-boring, as overhearing flight attendants complain about this thing or that thing is pretty commonplace.
The only real talk about Kiev came from the journalists, who spent a considerable time discussing unconfirmed reports of traffic being turned away near the city centre, the status of public transport—it is open, at least for the time being—and whether it was true that Ukrainian officials at passport control had refused entry to foreign journalists.
These rumors hardly fazed a cameraman from the British broadcaster ITV, whose massive gear took up enough overhead compartment for a full three passengers. If Ukrainian officials were turning away foreigners then he would surely be first to get detained (or so one would think).
Meanwhile, the epitome of a foreign correspondent—think day-old stubble, hipster canvas backpack and the International New York Times stuffed in the patch pockets of a clearly vintage Harris Tweed herringbone sport jacket—was telling everyone else how he hoped to bum a couch off someone, somewhere.
The only real action came when the plane landed and the flight attendants told disembarking journalists to “stay safe.” This was clearly off-message and affirmed my earlier suspicions that KLM staff were instructed to pretend as if all was normal.
It seemed like an eternity, but in reality the walk from the arrival gate to passport control at Boryspil International Airport only took a couple of minutes. This was more than enough time for plenty of thoughts to racing across the head of this columnist with “What if they detain me?” or “What if I’m arrested?” coming up the most. Read More…
Richard Engel of NBC, reporting from Maidan Square in Kiev, described what he witnessed as the Feb. 19 truce collapsed.
Police began to back away from their positions in the square, said Engel. And the protesters attacked. Gunfire was exchanged and the death toll, believed to be in the dozens, is not known.
In short, the reality in Kiev is more complex than the black-and-white cartoon of Vladimir Putin vs. the freedom fighters drawn by our resident Russophobic elite. Perspective is in order.
First, though portrayed as a tyrannical thug, Viktor Yanukovych won the presidency of Ukraine in 2010 in what international observers called a free and fair election. He may not be Marcus Aurelius, but his remains the legitimate government.
Second, high among the reasons Yanukovych chose Russia’s offer to join its custom union over the EU is that Putin put a better deal on the table.
Moscow put up $15 billion in loans and cut-rate oil and gas. The EU offered some piddling loans and credits, plus a demand for reforms in the Ukrainian economy monitored by the IMF, but no commitment to full membership in the EU.
As for the “protesters” who came to Maidan Square in November, not all came simply to protest. Many set up tents and shacks, threw up barricades, seized government buildings, burned the headquarters of the ruling party, battled police and demanded the overthrow of the regime.
How many Western countries would permit a planned putsch in their capital city? Read More…
For much of this discussion over Ukraine, we have been told that the country is divided between the pro-European West and the pro-Russian East. While there is some truth to this, the real divide in Ukraine is not East versus West, but up versus down.
The question is will Ukraine move up towards more freedom and the rule of law or will this country fall further down towards despotism and crony capitalism. There are very few people in Ukraine who benefit from the country going down further.
While most people do not want another Soviet Union, there is a strong generational divide in both Ukraine and Russia regarding democracy and nostalgia over the Soviet collapse. According to Pew, in 2011, 58 percent of Russians under 30 supported the change from communism to democracy. Only 31 percent of Russians over 65 shared this view. In the same poll, 43 percent of Ukrainians under 30 supported the shift towards democracy, while only 23 percent of Ukrainians over 65 agreed.
In 2011, 63 percent of Russians over 65 agreed with President Putin that the collapse of the Soviet Union was unfortunate. Only 36 percent of Russians under 30 agreed. To keep Ukraine out of Putin’s orbit, it will require Ukraine’s protestors to discredit the KGB with the older generation in both countries.
The best way to do this is to continue the push to declassify approximately 800,000 volumes of Soviet-era documents in Ukraine that are labeled “secret” or “top secret.” In 2009, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree to declassify the archives of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). With the election of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, the process has stalled. It is still far too difficult for relatives to obtain these files.
In my case, I began inquiring about my grandfather’s file in December of 2012. Although he was sent to the Gulag Vorkuta, which is in Siberia, I hoped that the Ukrainian authorities would have a copy of his file since he was arrested in Kiev.
Ukraine’s archives are still more open to the public than Russia’s. I can say this from some experience. My friend, Jon Utley, went to Russia to inquire about his father who was arrested and later executed in Vorkuta.
After several decades, Jon would finally learn what happened to his father when he read his file. Jon would later tell me that he noticed a couple of sealed envelopes that he was not allowed to read.
I told Jon that these envelopes probably contained the testimonies of people who informed on his father. During Stalin’s rule, people would snitch on their neighbors, friends, and, sometimes, even their relatives, to save themselves.
To my amazement, the Ukrainian archivists found my grandfather’s file. They told me that I would have to provide identification proving that I was a relative and I also would have to go to the archives in order to read it. To add insult to injury, I was not allowed to receive a copy. This is wrong.
All of the Soviet era documents should be fully declassified and accessible online to the general public. Most of Stalin’s informers and victims are either dead or too old to plot revenge. Beyond a sense of closure to the victims, a secret police cannot function without a network of informers. Read More…
We seem to be witnessing the remarkable early stirrings of a reevaluation of Zionism among American Jewish intellectuals. This process is parallel and perhaps symbiotic to the rethinking of America’s foreign policy relationship with Israel sparked by the best-selling The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy. But Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, as fairly standard two state solution advocates, don’t differ very much in their prescriptions from views typically expressed by State Department or most postwar American presidents. Now however, there’s a new phenomenon. The past months have seen publication of Max Blumenthal’s excoriating journalistic portrait of the advance of a quasi-fascist Israeli Right in Goliath; the New York Times‘ spotlighting of a small but important group of religious and orthodox Jews who are non-Zionist or nearly so; and now John Judis’s remarkable analysis of the forces converging on Harry Truman at the time of Israel’s birth in Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. These are all the work of American Jews questionning whether Israel should exist as “Jewish state” with all that entails for the systemic violation of Palestinian rights. The very intensity with which the enforcers of mainstream “pro-Israel” orthodoxy have responded to this wave is itself a sign that the new voices have something of a tailwind behind them and are likely to be an increasingly important part of both the American Jewish and the broader American debate.
I would assume that much of the attention devoted to Judis’s work will be directed towards his portrait of President Truman and his ambiguity about supporting the particular Jewish state to which he served as midwife, as well to the unrelenting and crude political pressures the President was subjected to by the Zionist lobby. As Judis notes, Truman was a practical politician with ample experience in race relations and ethnically divided political communities. He favored without question the opening up of Palestine as a refuge for the tens of thousands of Jews languishing in displaced person’s camps after World War II. But he was not initially in favor of a Jewish state, in part because his top foreign policy advisors worried about antagonizing the oil rich Arab world and also because of his own sense of the American experience. Truman was, Judis relates, “a Jeffersonian Democrat who rejected the idea of a state religion—state religions were what had caused centuries of war in Europe. He didn’t think that a nation should be defined by a particular people or race or religion.” But he was also, as Judis makes very clear, a politician committed to his own reelection and that of his fellow Democrats. Reminders from the Zionists on his own staff and those outside the White House of the political dangers which would flow from refusing to accommodate Israel’s ever-expanding list of “asks” arrived relentlessly, and in the end Truman always bowed to them, protesting all the way. Read More…
Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has apologized for her undiplomatic “(bleep) the EU!” remark intercepted on her phone call with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Yet it appears that tens of millions of Europeans share her feelings about the European Union, which they believe has arisen to rule over them.
And Feb. 9, the Eurocrats heard a fire bell in the night.
In a referendum backed by the Swiss People’s Party, a clear majority voted to impose quotas on all immigration, even from other European nations.
Though Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it has signed the Schengen Agreement on freedom of travel across European borders. Now it wants to be rid of Schengen—and any more immigration.
The Swiss vote was not just a shocker for the champions of “one Europe.” It has given a tremendous boost to the populist parties on the continent. Hailing the Swiss vote, many are demanding similar referendums in their own countries.
Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party, which wants a referendum to quit the EU entirely and is pressuring the Tories of David Cameron, hailed the referendum.
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, is praising the “great courage” of the Swiss and has launched a petition drive to put a referendum on the ballot in France.
“Similar calls have come from the Dutch Freedom party leader Geert Wilders, who is ahead in several recent polls; the Austrian Freedom party, which showed strong gains in September’s national elections; the Danish People’s party … and Sweden’s Democratic party,” writes the Financial Times.
In Norway, the Progress Party, which is part of the government, is demanding a referendum on immigration.
What makes the Swiss vote explosive is that it comes three months before the May elections for the European Parliament, in which anti-EU parties were already expected to make strong gains.
If these Euroskeptic parties can fold into their campaigns for the European Parliament their campaigns for a national vote to restrict immigration, they could make dramatic gains, and send a shock wave across Europe and a message to the world that Europeans are rejecting the future being planned for them. Read More…
For almost as long as I can remember anyway, the op-ed page of the New York Times has been a fairly reliable forum for some of the laziest and most predictable writing on international affairs, a better example of which could hardly be found than an essay it published this week entitled “Czar Vladimir’s Illusions” by former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Reflecting not so much Putin’s illusions but his own, Saakashvili, now a Senior Statesman at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, expends nearly 1200 words in an effort to denigrate Putin and the Sochi Olympics while, with an eye fixed on posterity, attempting to polish up his own rather questionable legacy.
Saakashvili takes the gloves off right away, implying that Russia somehow sanctioned the bloodshed in the streets of Kiev. And while the rest of the world may be sorely tempted to see this as “the hour of triumph for autocrats,” Saakashvili cautions us: not so fast. Russia, though oil rich, is likely facing terminal decline because of rampant corruption; in fact, he notes, Russia’s economy has been growing at a slower rate than Georgia’s for the past nine years.
By way of example, readers are invited to compare and contrast two Black Sea regions adjacent to Sochi: Abkhazia and Adjaria. Abkhazia’s capital Sukhumi, which has been under Russian control for the past 5 years, “looks tired and gloomy” compared to the relative paradise of Georgian-controlled Adjaria.
How did Russian control of Abkhazia come about? Well, in his telling, it’s awfully straightforward:
When Russia was bidding to be host of the Olympics, it had enthusiastic Georgian support, as we believed holding the Games in Sochi would enhance chances for peace and improve relations. Instead, several months after the Kremlin won its bid to host the Olympics, Russia invaded Georgia.
And though Russia has invested many billions of dollars to stage the Olympic Games in Sochi, what it all really amounts to is a “Potemkin Village” built with the sole purpose of gratifying the insatiable ego of Czar Putin. And if the Czar thinks a successful Olympic Games will work to shore up his popularity, stave off economic malaise, or bring peace to the turbulent region, he is mistaken because Russia’s “heavy-handed colonial approach can only antagonize and radicalize the population.”
The problem underlying all of this, according to Fletcher’s newly minted Senior Statesman, is that Putin is a man obsessed by the fall of the Soviet Union; indeed it “seems he still fails to grasp why it happened.” And so Saakashvili concludes: as long as Putin persists in his efforts to “restore the past” the Russia’s future prospects will remain dim.
It’s a nice story, and he’s sticking to it; but that doesn’t mean we have to. As regards those “pro-democracy protesters” being gunned down with Russian acquiescence in the streets of Kiev: in his account we get not a word about the protesters who are throwing firebombs at the police; nor of any on the well-documented assaults on off-duty police officers; nor any on the rabidly nationalist and anti-Semitic character the once peaceful movement taken on since January. Read More…