Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A New Cold War?

David:
While the hijinks of the US Presidential campaign continues its slow slide into the swamp, there are still some very important and very serious issues at stake. Throughout the past 8 years, Russia has increasingly moved in aggressive ways throughout the Balkans and the Middle East. They have invaded and secured the Crimean Peninsula, have established stronger ties with Iran, and have positioned themselves to control whatever happens in Syria.

While we may have opposing views on why this has happened, it threatens the peace of the world. Just this week, Russia has pulled out of an agreement to dispose of tons of weapons-grade plutonium, while at the same time moving missiles into Kaliningrad. They have been testing NATO and the US in the region by flying into sovereign airspace and buzzing US ships.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/d3b3e157-00a9-3955-a86c-4b9adbdeab44/ss_putin-throws-out-the-old.html

President Obama has not, and does not, seem to want to make any moves at all, strategic or otherwise. But the next President will have to deal with a much more forceful and empowered Putin. Is it a mistake to let him act with impunity, or is it already too late to intervene in any diplomatic or military ways? How should the next President interact with Russia and Putin?



Doug:
Some recent activity by Russia definitely seems alarming. But I wouldn't go as far to say that we know if it "threatens the peace of the world." That sounds alarmist at this point. Let's not make this political. It may seem to you that "President Obama has not, and does not, seem to want to make any moves at all, strategic or otherwise." But I suspect that you are not privy to the government's strategy.

David:
What happened to President Obama's plan for his administration to be "the most transparent  ever"?  Or are you saying that it's better not to tell the enemy your plans ahead of time, by not making your plans privy to Americans? That sounds exactly like Donald Trump.

Doug:
Yes, Donald Trump invented the strategy of private negotiations.

To your question:

"Is it a mistake to let him act with impunity?" Of course, the United States would not let Putin do anything. There are many tools in the diplomacy toolbox for attempting to work with foreign governments.

David:
Wouldn't let him do anything! What do you think he's planning to do with tons of weapons-grade plutonium? He's strategically moving missiles into the Baltic.  He's lining up troops along the Ukrainian/Crimea border and moving tons of military supplies and weapons into Syria. What do you call that? I have not seen us, or NATO, do anything to slow down Russia's aggressive movements.

Doug:
I don't think that you are representing the situation accurately. Countries flex their muscles all the time without diplomats jumping to the conclusion that we are on the brink of war, let alone on the brink of a cold war.

David:
There is a difference between flexing muscles, and actually invading other countries.

Doug:
"Is it already too late to intervene in any diplomatic or military ways?" Of course not. That is ridiculous to suggest that it is too late. It is never too late.

"How should the next President interact with Russia and Putin?" They should interact with Russia in an appropriate manner. That would be using diplomacy and force as needed. Obama has done a fairly good job of balancing these. The last 8 years have been challenging. Let's hope the next President can also handle such challenges appropriately.

David:
The next few years will be more challenging, due to the inactions of our current administration.

Doug:
Now you're a foreign policy expert that can see into the future? Gee, who caused more problems: Bush starting wars in multiple countries, or Obama? I think we'll be dealing with Bush's fiascos for many generations.

David:
That is such a tired old mantra. It's Bush' fault.

Doug:
Many tired old mantras are also true. Which is why they are often said. How could starting multiple wars not have an effect for generations?

David:
While Obama has done nothing but draw red lines (that he didn't really mean), and makes threats (that he didn't intend to really follow through on), Russia has positioned itself to be the stronger player in our negotiations in the region. Diplomacy only works, if there is a realistic threat of force to back up your words. Otherwise, you are not negotiating, you are pleading.

Doug:
We have the largest military force in the world. I don't think we need to do much more to make people realize that we pose a realistic threat.

David:
We spent a good deal of time trying to figure out if we should have a "no-fly" zone over Syria. While we were spending our diplomatic efforts there, Putin has moved into Syria with anti-aircraft batteries and is bombing hospitals and civilian aid-workers with impunity. The UN put together a proposal to stop this, which Russia promptly vetoed.

The reason we are debating what to do with all of the Syrian refugees, is we are doing nothing to prevent them from becoming refugees in the first place.

Is there any point where you would advocate using the military to stop this? Is there a certain number of civilians that would need to be killed? Or should we continue telling Russia they'd better not cross our red lines, or else.

Doug:
Using military to stop this? What is "this"? The military is not the first tool a president should reach for. In fact, it should be the last. I see that you are frustrated that Russia is doing things that we wished it wouldn't. But one can't just threaten violence back every time one feels threatened. There are civilians killed all over the world every day. We need to work towards solving that. But not with more violence.

David:
So your answer is no. You would never use force to back up your position. Because you would never consider using force, or would only use it in the most dire of circumstances, when your back is against the wall, your diplomacy will never be successful. Diplomacy with a realistic threat of force to back it up must work in tandem together, not as an either/or strategy. Clinton and Obama spent years telling the Russians we were all going to be good buddies, while Putin never had friendship with us on his mind.

Doug:
Restraint takes more courage than engagement. Obama realizes that our military lives should not be sacrificed if diplomacy can work. And using force can create enemies for long periods of time.

David:
All Presidents have known that. But there are things that can be done without using force. Moving troops into NATO countries in the Balkans, or placing a missile defense system in Poland sends a message that we are prepared to use force if Russia invades other countries or pushes further. Sending in jets to protect civilians from bombing raids says we are prepared to use force to protect the innocent from Russian aggression.  Putin is using force right now. Telling Putin that we won't send John Kerry to talk to him anymore is not a deterrent. (Although threatening to send Kerry over to his house might be a deterrent. It would be for me.)

Doug:
Which is why you don't understand how diplomacy works.

David:
Ditto. You can have the largest military in the world, but if your enemies know you will never use it, it is meaningless. Sending in small groups of men, without a clear strategy to win decisively, wastes those men's lives. Remember, we have men fighting in Mosul right now. We had already captured Mosul under Bush. Pulling all of our men out allowed Mosul to fall back into the hands of the enemy. Many men gave up their lives to take that city in 2003. What a waste. That's how Obama's diplomacy has worked: re-fighting wars that had already been won, once. Let's start tallying up his body count.

10 comments:

  1. One comment gentlemen: The throw away about multiple red lines needs cleaning up. We know that there is just one red line of concern, i.e., chem weapons in Syria. Obama did not include what consequences would be when he said that using chems would cross a red line. He was maintaining maximum maneuverability, which was the right thing to do, but it allowed everyone to project whatever they wished. It was immediately assumed that he meant that he would enter the war and bomb Assad. In fact, he gave congress the option of weighing in, and they shirked their duty. Since Congress demurred (giving themselves maximum maneuverability to criticize Obama whatever he did) Obama chose to apply the consequences in a very narrow, but ultimately successful manner. He let Putin know that the hammer would come down, and Putin believed him, facilitating the removal of those weapons from Syria. It is terribly misleading to call this feckless.

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    1. I think that your analysis is correct. It doesn't always play well at home for those people that want chest beating. But that is why it is so important to elect strong, smart, confident people that make such decisions. It would be nice to see some of that intellect come out of Congress, too.

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    2. David suffers from "selective inattention" to the consequences of staying in the middle of this mess. He should own up to backing a policy that is effectively neo-colonialism, and which would sap us for decades to come (On top of what we are already suffering thanks to an unnecessary, elective war.) Run it up the flag pole and see if the American electorate salutes...I doubt very much that they would.

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  2. Hi Mike. Thanks for joining the conversation. I might, however redirect the selective inattention comment towards your mirror. Over the pat few years, Obama has quietly been sending an increasing number of American military men and women back into Iraq. If Bush was guilty of Neo-colonialism, I wonder what you would call this. When you are talking about unnecessary, elective wars, I presume you are also talking about Libya, Hillary's and Obama's elective war? Each President makes decisions based on what intelligence he has at the time. Judging them along partisan lines using information available after-the-fact only deepens the partisan divide.
    https://www.statista.com/chart/6393/the-us-militarys-gradual-return-to-iraq/

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    1. Now David, Don't be coy. You know very well I am referring to the trillion dollar war in Iraq that was really forced on us to scratch a neo-con itch (and for which not one iota of contrition was ever expressed). Libya was actually Hollande's war that we barely dabbled in. Trying to hang any "elective war" on the highly reluctant Obama just doesn't fly.

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    2. Again, you consider the "other side's" wars as expensive, unjust, and ill-advised from a bunch of war-mongers, while "my side's" wars are reluctant, just, noble, and honorable (and just a little dabbling in death). You are talking in strictly partisan terms. We're involved in 5 separate conflicts at this moment. The question is how do we proceed for the future in a non-partisan discussion?

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    3. Are you saying that if I filtered out partisanship, Libya would equate even up with Iraq? Really??? And given that "your side" rails against the Obama administration specifically for being reluctant in Syria, how am I off base in saying the same? And at least clear up where I say any of this is honorable or just. My head swims...

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  3. David, my take on ur argument:
    1. Obama pulled out of Iraq. Now it's a mess.
    2. He intervened in Libya. Now it's a mess.
    3. He did not intervene in Syria. Now it's a mess.
    4. He's wrong no matter what he does.
    5. Praise Trump. (Yeah, I know u didn't go there -- yet.)

    In fact, what Obama did was follow law:
    1. He honored Bush's withdrawal agreement -- which the corrupt Maliki refused to renegotiate.
    2. He used cruise missiles to initiate a no-fly zone in accord with a UN Security Council resolution.
    3. He stopped short of going to war in Syria bc neither UN nor Congress authorized it.

    Would u be happier if he had violated international law &/or US law?

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  4. BTW, if u want some idea of relative military strength, US has 10 aircraft carriers in service + 1 in reserve. Rest of world has 9 in service + 1 in reserve. (Russia has 1.)

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    1. It is amazing how much we spend on defense.

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