Russia

A New Relationship with Cuba May Be a Good Thing, Just Not Necessarily For Who You Think

Cuban Embargo

There are several arguments being bandied about regarding President Obama’s desire to normalize relations with our little Commie friend to the South, Cuba. And they run the gamut: some think it’s a sign of weak negotiating prowess and simply bad policy (we give more than we get, etc.); some think the embargo a failed prospect that should be, in the interests of the Cuban people, tossed to the wind, but that Congress should have been included in the decision; and others think it’s all just a swell idea and hurray because Cuba and the USA are about to be besties! (I’m sure there’s a selfie joke in there somewhere).

Congress, understandably, is pushing back — again, something that will likely be a common theme over the next two years — with Marco Rubio making as clear a statement as any I’ve heard on the matter:

“I anticipate I’ll be the chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee” in the new Congress, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a press conference hours after the release of American prisoner Alan Gross from a Cuban prison was announced along with the administration’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba, including opening an embassy there.

Rand Paul has already won: Republicans are rethinking foreign policy

Conservatism seems to be appealing again, thanks in no small part to the “get off my lawn establishment politician!” flavor of the increasingly-difficult-to-ignore libertarian wing of the big tent. And it’s not difficult to understand why. When a policy push advocates, generally, for a less intrusive government regarding taxation and electronic spying and nanny state moralizing, free people tend to sit up and take notice.

But there’s one area critics of libertarianism have at least a marginally sturdy leg to stand on: foreign policy/national defense. And it’s not because libertarians don’t care about these issues; rather, it’s that there hasn’t been a unified voice concerning these issues from a group that is fairly consistent on most other major policy ideas, making criticism an easy task.

In short, libertarians, as vocal a group on politics as any you’re likely to meet, shy away en masse from making definitive statements about foreign policy. But there may be some very good — and surmountable — reasons for that. One of them is an exhaustion with the interventionist philosophy of neocons, one many libertarians feel has kept the US in expensive and bloody wars and conflicts in different parts of the world for far too long. And it’s a philosophy that, oddly, continues still.

No one is suggesting it’s not an utter tragedy what happened to those Nigerian schoolgirls. But is it a conflict we should be involving ourselves in? And why? Those questions have yet to be answered or — frankly — even posed.

Yes, Rand Paul is the future of the GOP

Over at the American Spectator, Reid Smith and Jamie Weinstein (so much for that “I before E” rule, right?), debate whether Rand Paul is the future of the Republican Party.

Smith takes the pro-Paul position in his part, “A New Age of Liberty,” in which he touts the libertarian scion’s innovative tactics and positions and success in just three years in the Senate. Weinstein takes the anti-Paul side, under the head “GOP Less Libertarian Thank You Think,” using more concrete examples, but making less sense doing it.

Weinstein’s main point against Rand Paul is ideological, and no surprise, focuses on the area where he differs most sharply with  party leadership: foreign policy. He argues that while Paul turned heads with his drone filibuster and then helped defeat the authorization of force in Syria resolution, the Syria result was an exception, and the continued support for military action against Iranian nuclear capability is the rule. Paul didn’t tilt the party more isolationist, Weinstein claims, people just didn’t like the options in Syria. While a convincing argument, we have another data point now with which we can test this theory: Ukraine.

Followingly less than a year after the Syria debate, 56% of Americans say we should “not get too involved” in Russia’s annexation of Ukraine either. And while 67% of Republicans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the situation so far, 50% say it’s important we don’t get involved.

Should we get involved in Ukraine?

Ukraine is a complicated question worldwide. It is a relatively large Eastern European economy – certainly the biggest, after Russia, among the former Soviet Republics. It is also a major natural gas conduit for sales of Russian natural gas from Russia to the European Union.

As such, it’s important to Russia, not just as a transit point for natural gas to its biggest customers in Europe, but also as a large economy that exports a lot of its agricultural products, its workers and its steel to Russia. Having an economy such as this in the Russian-led customs union would lend legitimacy to an organization the Russians have been trying to transform into a European Union-type economic alliance.

In this post I’m going to attempt to lay out some issues, as well as some possible outcomes and solutions.

First, let’s get something straight. There have been rumblings that the U.S. government has somehow been funding the protesters in Ukraine, hoping to topple the corrupt, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. This is a silly idea. Why would the United States work to create a power vacuum? Why would the United States want to facilitate the rise to power of Julia Timoshenko, who by many accounts is just as corrupt as Yanukovych AND has ties to organized crime? It doesn’t make sense.

Crimea in Crisis: Ultimatums to Surrender

Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin took steps to retain influence in Ukraine by gaining military control of the Crimean peninsula. As the pro-Russian government in Kiev gave way to Euromaidan protests, Putin had the following appeal approved by the Russian Parliament:

“In connection with the extraordinary situation that has developed in Ukraine and the threat to citizens of the Russian Federation… I hereby appeal to the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the social and political situation in that country is normalised.”

Making matters more ominous, the Russian military has issued ultimatums to Ukraine: surrender  - even Ukrainian warships in Crimea – or face “a military storm” by 9 PM EST today. How far will he go?

Let me start by saying, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and neither do any of the supposed experts I may cite herein. The purpose of this writing is to catch the reader up on developments, which are quickly unfolding. (Click here for a live blog of events)

There are no good options in Ukraine

Crimea

First, a timeline:

2/27:

US intelligence does not anticipate a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

2/28:

Russian forces arrive “uncontested” in Crimea, barricading roads, commandeering the Sevastopol airport.

Obama warns of “costs for any military intervention in Ukraine”.

3/1:

Putin requests permission to deploy the Russian military to Ukraine.

Within an hour, the duma grants, and the full Russian invasion of Ukraine begins.

As we can see, Russia takes American threats very seriously. And why should they? President Obama’s planned strike on Syria was stopped in its tracks (fortunately) by behind-the-scenes dithering, overwhelming popular opposition, and congressional uncertainty. Putin knows America has no stomach for military intervention after almost thirteen years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama Administration’s embarrassing foreign policy fumble

Facepalm

Just days after an U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power claimed that the United States had “exhausted the alternatives” to a military strike against Syria, the Obama Administration is seriously considering a deal brokered by Russia that may prevent a war.

The details are still in the works, but the deal, which Bashar al-Assad’s regime has accepted, would require that the Syrian government to relinquish its supply of chemical weapons to international intermediaries. Syria also says that it will ratify the chemical weapons ban treaty.

The Obama Administration remains skeptical, though the President has called the proposed deal a “positive development,” and wants the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution that would make the deal enforceable. Meanwhile, members of the United States Senate are working on a new resolution that would authorize force against Syria in the event that Assad’s government doesn’t turnover its chemical weapons arsenal.

Obama goes to skeptical Congress for Syria intervention

Barack Obama

In what was a welcome development, President Barack Obama announced on Saturday that he would make the case to a skeptical Congress to authorize military intervention in Syria, following an example set late last week by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

“I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable,” said President Obama in the White House Rose Garden.

“As a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the Prime Minister supported taking action,” he continued, referencing the failed vote that took place on Thursday in Parliament.

“Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” he added. “We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy.”

Just what can the NSA do with information

Micky Aldridge (CC)

How many times have you thought about returning an email to someone, and realized that you couldn’t immediately find that person’s original message? Stands to reason that once you’re at that point, you end up dropping the cursor into the little search bar that’s sitting on the top of just about every email client and webmail page, started typing in the person’s name, to run a search. It’s something that just about everyone with an email account anywhere has done, and taken for granted. Now, imagine if you couldn’t do that - or you couldn’t search for a specific topic within your emails.

Well, that’s what the NSA would like to have people believe about their system. According to a report from Pro Publica, the agency can’t seem to fulfill Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that happen to include at least a single domain for the outside source of emails, and a specific time period to search for said emails.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

Ron Paul’s Poor Choice of Words

Yesterday, Rep. Ron Paul gave a speech on the House floor in regards to situation in Syria. Syria has descended into bloody civil war with rebel groups trying to oust Syrian dictator Bashir Assad. There have been reports of massacres and atrocities being committed by forces to loyal to the Assad government. In response, there have been increasing calls for intervention by United States and NATO forces, in the mold of the recent Libyan adventure, to remove the Assad government from power.

Rep. Paul spoke out against the proposed intervention and will file legislation to stop President Obama from launching a war against the Assad regime without Congressional authorization. This is legislation I would strongly support because only Congress has the constitutional duty to declare and authorize war. Plus, I believe intervention in Syria would be a huge mistake because it would likely ignite a larger Middle Eastern war involving Israel and Iran. However, the Paul speech unfortunately I believe did harm to supporters of non-interventionism and confirmed many negative stereotypes about them.

The speech included a few troubling passages, such as:

We are already too much involved in supporting the forces within Syria anxious to overthrow the current government. Without outside interference, the strife—now characterized as a civil war—would likely be non-existent.


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