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  • March 20th, 2017

President Donald “Blowback” Trump: From Iraq to America

2544451047_fb6b720baaNation Fellow Tom Engelhardt traces the rise of Donald J. Trump from the blowback caused by the illegal 2003 American invasion of Iraq. See “If You Want to Know Where Donald Trump Came From, Look to Iraq” (The Nation, 16 March 2017). While this might not be the entire answer, it does help explain the fear factor that Trump so effectively exploits.

[In response to the 9/11 attacks]… the United States would set off a series of wars, conflicts, insurgencies, and burgeoning terror movements that would transform significant parts of the Greater Middle East into failed or failing states, and their cities and towns, startling numbers of them, into so much rubble.

Needless to say, that was not the dream! What George W. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had in mind was the “friendly” occupation of Iraq (and its oil), leading inexorably to the downfall next of Assad’s Syria and then of theocratic Iran.

Instead, a victory-less “permanent war” across the Greater Middle East came home to America, with the militarization of its police forces, the rise of the national security state, and the emergence of a terrorist adversary that even the world’s greatest military could not crush. All of this set the stage for con man extraordinaire Donald J. Trump and his winning electoral message of “America First,” which Engelhardt suggests actually means “a country walled off and walled in”.

Think of the road traveled from 2003 to 2017 as being from sole global superpower to potential super-pariah.

But it also means the “blowback wars” are only going to get worse, with a proposed $54-billion-dollar Pentagon budget increase and the “revving up [of] American military power in Yemen, Syria, and potentially Afghanistan” by the Trump administration.

For the full article, click on: “If You Want to Know Where Donald Trump Came From, Look to Iraq” (Tom Engelhardt, The Nation, 16 March 2017).


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  • March 13th, 2017

Liberals should say “no” again to American BMD



Both Conservative and Liberal governments have concluded, in 1985 and 2005 respectively, that participation in American ballistic missile defence does not accord with Canadian defence and security priorities. The Trudeau Liberals would be wise to do the same. — Peggy Mason (9 May 2017, Esprit de Corps)

At the beginning of April 2016, the Liberal government decided that it would launch a review of Canada’s defence policy and, as part of that, has reopened the issue of Canadian participation in Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).

Since then a chorus of defence lobbyists and their academic and journalistic echoes have urged the government to seek Canadian participation. See, for example, an extraordinarily silly and inaccurate piece in the National Post by John Ivison, arguing that Canada can help make up its alleged NATO budgetary shortfall by contributing to a non-NATO ballistic missile defence system. That article also dismissed international concerns that BMD “would weaponize space” because the interceptor missiles are ground based (which is why the system is known by the acronym “GMD” for ground based missile defence). One has to assume that Ivison is unaware the aim of the American GMD system is to try to shoot down the incoming missile in outer space. As such:

So-called defensive missiles designed to intercept and shoot down incoming missiles in space have an intrinsic offensive anti-satellite weapon capability, which is precisely why the fear of weaponizing space is such a serious one. — Peggy Mason

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Defence heard testimony on the pros and cons of Canada re-opening the BMD participation issue during its hearings in May 2016. Particularly relevant was this admission by Professor James Fergusson, one of the strongest proponents of Canadian participation:

The American research and development program is well advanced across the board in missile defence. The likelihood that there are any opportunities for Canadian firms or Canadian technology is extremely low.

While Canadian firms would likely get little or no benefit, the Canadian taxpayer would be on the hook for as much as $4 billion dollars for Canada’s share of the programme.

And did we mention that this astronomically expensive system does not work?

Shooting down an enemy missile going 15,000 mph out in space is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph. And if an enemy uses decoys and countermeasures, missile defence is like trying to shoot a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph and the green is covered with black circles the same size as the hole. — Hon. Philip E. Coyle.

There are many other reasons why Canada should continue to stay as far away as possible from the American missile defence boondoggle, including its destabilizing effects on international security, the lack of any meaningful operational role for Canada in the American command and control structure for GMD, and the likelihood that, despite all the monies expended, there will not even be an American guarantee that Canadian cities would be defended by the system (assuming the system worked, which it does not).

For an elaboration of these arguments see the May 5th testimony and Peggy Mason Speaking Notes by Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason to the Standing Committee on National Defence.


Photo credit: US Government

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  • March 3rd, 2017

Common Wisdom on Russia is not Wise


Christopher Westdal has the distinction of being the only Canadian diplomat to have served both as Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine (1996-98) and Russia (2003-06). Below is a slightly edited version of his remarks as spoken to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons of Canada.


Thank you. I am honoured to address you.

Since I retired from our foreign service ten years ago, I have sustained an active interest in Russia and in Ukraine. I’ll focus on them today.

Your subject is vast – and, as you’ve found, it necessarily includes Russia, because to talk about the security, political and economic circumstances of Eastern Europe and Central Asia without talking about Russia is to talk about everything in the room except the elephant.

I’ll use my few minutes to talk, first, about the popular narrative of Russia as an aggressive marauder; second, about Ukraine on the brink; third, about the plans for détente of President Trump; and, along the way, about Canada’s roles in all this drama.

The Common Wisdom Isn’t Wise

I encourage you to take a hard, skeptical look at the prevailing, ubiquitous Western narrative that Vladimir Putin is a demon, killer, thief, dictator, war criminal and fixer of US elections and that the Russia he’s led for 17 years is a malignant, aggressive marauder bent on domination in eastern Europe and far beyond.

Vladimir Putin is no choirboy; no great power leader ever is. The President of Russia is many other things: a patriot, a patriarch – Tsar Lite, say, formidably intelligent, informed and articulate, pragmatic above all, a proven leader tough enough to run the vast Federation, ruthless if need be in serving its interests – and genuinely popular. Putin is also, proudly, a spy – and deception is an essential tool of espionage. So, of course, those “little green men” were Russian – but, of course, Moscow won’t say so. As Putin explained at a Munich Security Conference, “We’re all adults here.”

What’s more, beyond its leader, there is much we may not like in Russia’s domestic politics or in the unapologetically brutal, few-holds-barred way it wages war.

But still, I find the current narrative about Russia’s role in the world overblown, full of exaggeration about Russia’s record, motives and capabilities, while blind to its obvious economic, demographic and security vulnerabilities and its necessarily defensive strategic posture.

That narrative is also notably ahistorical, blithely ignoring the provocations which have led to what’s labelled Russian “aggression” – the vast expansion of NATO, a congenitally Russo-phobic nuclear military alliance; the unilateral abrogation of the ABM Treaty, messing with Moscow’s perception of its nuclear security, and the forward deployment of missile defence (in Romania and Poland, to counter a threat from Iran, we’d have Moscow believe); and the billions spent stoking anti-Russian sentiment and regime change in Russia’s neighbourhood.

There has been much blood shed since the Maidan picked a fight with Moscow three years ago, a fight it can’t win, but the facts remain that Kyiv can’t make the (increasingly distracted and exasperated) West care more – and can’t make the Kremlin care less. We are not going to fight World War III for the Donbas – and the Kremlin, under any sensate leader, is not going to stop defining the geostrategic orientation of Ukraine, all of Ukraine, as a matter of fundamental national security. Call Russia’s reaction “aggression” if you will – but as we grew NATO by leaps and bounds, what did we expect? That Russia would just roll over in the face of obvious strategic calamity and meekly agree to rent historic Sevastopol, the Crimean base of its Black Sea Fleet, from a member of NATO?

Like them or not, theory aside, major powers’ zones of influence are real. We Canadians know that; we live in one. In the real world, Kyiv has about as much freedom to undermine Moscow’s security as Ottawa has to undermine Washington’s.

Ukraine on the Brink

Take a hard look too at the catastrophic circumstances of Ukraine and at the record and results there of a quarter century of massive, sustained Western intervention, including our own. They must surely lead you to humility about our comprehension of Ukraine and our ability to mind its business.

In brief, the US colony in Kyiv, the multi-billion dollar Western project there, of which we’re a vocal part, is a heartbreak, a corrupt oligarchy, unreformed, highly centralized (without even elected regional governors), littered with arms, full of hard men without jobs, ready recruits for private militias, and dominated by ethnic nationalists bitterly opposed to vital national and regional reconciliation.

More of the same from us will make no sense. In a hole, stop digging. At the very least, do no more harm. Our record proves we don’t have a clue how to solve Ukraine’s problems. They’ll have to be solved – or not – by Ukrainians.

For President Poroshenko, meanwhile, let us spare a prayer. With a 13% approval rating, the economy in tatters, and US and EU support fading, Poroshenko knows he has to do a deal with Russia, has to implement the Minsk peace plan – yet he dare not say so. The Rada is adamantly opposed. In Kyiv these days, federalism and decentralization, at the core of Minsk implementation, are four-letter words.

We should do what we can to help him. We have no influence in Moscow – and it will be some time before we recover much – but we do have some clout in Kyiv. We should use it to counter lethally exclusive ethnic Ukrainian nationalism, to which we should stop pandering. We should use it as well to suggest such proven Canadian solutions as inclusion, accommodation and federalism.

And we should use it to promote essential reconciliation with Russia. No country in the world has more profound interest in good relations with Russia than Ukraine, none more interest in East-West accord, none more to gain by an end to this ruinous East-West tug of war, none more interest in a better fence between Russia and NATO – a “mending wall” in Frost’s phrase – and a new deal in which Ukraine, rather than having to make an impossible choice, gets to trade well with both Europe and Russia, while posing a security threat to neither, a deal in which Ukrainians get the space and peace and quiet they need to reunite, to recover, to reform and to succeed. By all means, bilaterally and multilaterally, that should be our goal.

Donald Trumps the World  

Despite entrenched bi-partisan opposition, President Trump has appeared determined to achieve a measure of détente with Russia, to fight ISIS with it, to trade with it, to seek peace in Ukraine with it – generally, to lower the temperature and tension, to head off more Cold War. For the good of all concerned, especially Ukrainians, we should help him do so. Far from “sacrificing” Ukraine, as critics will claim, détente would permit its salvation.

We should help Trump deter Russia too, responding to his demand – and that of General Mattis at NATO in Brussels yesterday – that we spend more on defence. In my view, we have to do so anyway, if only to build a navy and coast guard fit for the three oceans we have to sail.

As NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg insists, there is no contradiction between détente and deterrence. One day, one may eliminate the other, but we’re not there yet. NATO’s not going away any time soon. It will go on balancing and deterring Russian power and ambition.

Meantime, as we do our bit for deterrence, we should also do our bit for détente – and keep our priorities straight about the two. As Defence Minister Sajjan said at last year’s NATO Summit in Warsaw, even as our pact agreed to reinforcements on Russia’s borders, the work “behind the scenes” to re-establish a NATO dialogue with Russia “really is the most critical piece … We need to make sure the tensions are reduced because it doesn’t help anybody.”

Exactly. Détente is a lonely cause these days and Donald Trump may turn out to be the worst friend it ever had, but the last thing our sorry world needs now is this new Cold War we’re waging. We’ve got too much else on our plates and face far greater threats to our security and welfare than any posed by Russia – which faces them too. The Cold War blighted half of the 20th century. If we can avoid it – and I think we can, if we try harder – let’s not let Cold War blight any more of the 21st.

Thank you.

For a link to a transcript of the testimony and ensuing Question and Answer, click here: Testimony of Chris Westdal to FAAE Committee (16 Feb 2017).  (Note he is the second presenter.) For a pdf. version click Chris Westdal FAEE remarks as spoken.

Photo credit: PMO official photos.

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  • February 21st, 2017

Lifting the veil on American foreign policy: Part One


The absolute irony of the Trump presidency is that he is inadvertently exposing the terrible hypocrisies underlying an extremely hawkish American foreign policy consensus that in many ways does not serve America’s national interests well, if at all. – Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute

Backed by ferociously powerful domestic lobbies, America’s blind support for Israel and Saudi Arabia — and therefore against their mutual adversary, Iran — is perhaps the best example. Especially during his second term, President Obama fought hard to begin to limit Saudi and Israeli influence and did make some progress: witness the historic nuclear deal with Iran and the non-veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning yet more illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

Similarly, President Obama, through the dedicated and persistent diplomatic efforts of his Secretary of State, John Kerry, actually reached a deal with Russia over Syria. But Pentagon civilians and military officers refused to play ball, publicly declaring that they would “never cooperate” with Russia.

When Trump inartfully admitted to Bill O’Reilly that the USA, like Russia, “has a lot of killers,” he was telling the truth. But western publics will not easily allow their governments to support naked aggression, so it has to be dressed up as morally superior.

Trump is exposing the same hypocrisy with his glib support for “one state or two states or whatever the parties agree upon.” Surely he knows that the longstanding and oft professed American preference for a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict serves as a useful smokescreen behind which Israel builds ever more illegal settlements, encroaching on ever more Palestinian land until presumably there is simply none left for them?

Bernie Sanders started a conversation with the American public on how to pursue genuine economic and social justice, one that continues apace today, despite Trump’s cynical hijacking of populist rage to further enrich himself and his billionaire buddies.

The same type of honest conversation is urgently needed over American foreign policy. The status quo is increasingly untenable and President Trump has nothing to offer but bluster and threats, at best, and malevolent chaos and conflict at worst.

And Canada is not immune to this cynical misdirection in our foreign policy either, as Peter Larson’s latest blog, Canada appears more interested in supporting a “2 state solution” than in defending Palestinian human rights  graphically illustrates.

For more on the emptiness of the American policy on Israel-Palestine see: One-State Two-State Blues (Roger Cohen, NYTimes 17 Feb 2017).

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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  • February 14th, 2017

Trump’s dangerous bluster on Iran

epa04973097 A handout picture made available by the defence ministry's official website on 11 October 2015 shows, a mid-range surface-to-surface Emad (Assertiveness) missile being launched at an undisclosed location in Iran. Media reported that Iran has successfully test-fired a mid-range surface-to-surface Emad (Assertiveness) missile, Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan said on Sunday 11 October 2015 in Tehran. EPA/HO *** Local Caption *** 52301455

Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!” – @RealDonaldTrump  tweet, 2 Feb. 2017.

On 21 January Iran test-fired a ballistic missile for, in their words, “legitimate defensive purposes”. From Iran’s perspective, this was a reasonable claim. There is no international treaty banning the tests and the only relevant UN Security Council resolution calls on Iran to avoid missile tests “designed” to carry nuclear weapons. Under the historic nuclear agreement reached in July 2015 Iran gave up its ability to develop nuclear weapons and submitted to extremely intrusive on site monitoring and other advanced verification measures, designed to ensure it honoured this deal. In return Iran got crippling international sanctions lifted so its economy could get moving again.

In response to the first Iranian ballistic missile test since he took office, President Trump bellowed and tweeted out a series of threats, alleging Iran was “playing with fire”, and putting them “formally on notice” for [allegedly] breaching UN resolutions. The UN Security Council on 3 February, while concerned, found insufficient evidence of Iranian non-compliance and commissioned a report before deciding on any further action.

On Friday, 4 February, before any UN report could be produced, the Trump administration levied unilateral American sanctions against Iran.

The Iranian government immediately responded with a verbal tirade of its own, and another missile test.

Despite all the earlier bombast, there was no further response from President Trump, who was by then immersed in a new battle with the American judiciary over the constitutionality of his vile Muslim travel ban.

So how tough are these sanctions?

Clearly if Trump had really wanted to hurt Iran, he would have prohibited Boeing from going forward with the 16 billion dollar deal it reached with Iran Air in December, 2016 to replenish Iran’s dangerously aging commercial fleet. However, that contract is said to support 100,000 American jobs. So Trump followed up all his tough talk with tepid, largely irrelevant American sanctions on certain international entities doing business with Iran’s missile agency. – Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Insitute

This is not to downplay the negative impact of Trump’s rhetoric. Even empty words play right into the hands of the hardliners in Tehran who oppose the historic nuclear agreement as vehemently as the hardliners in America.

But it is too bad the media missed a key aspect of this saga — that Donald Trump, for all his bully boy bluster, pulled his punches when it came to Iran, for fear that hurting American jobs would hurt him too.


Photo credit: Wikimediacommons

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