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Coming at Putin-Trump from an oblique angle

Friday, February 1st, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — a kleptocratic analysis ]

There’s a different take on what liberals take to be the narrative Mueller will finally spell out (and Trump dispute) in its full Dostoevskian despair and glory: it’s to be found in Masha Gessen‘s New Yorker piece, The Trump-Russia Investigation and the Mafia State:

What we are observing is not most accurately described as the subversion of American democracy by a hostile power. Instead, it is an attempt at state capture by an international crime syndicate. What unites Yanukovych, Veselnitskaya, Manafort, Stone, WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange, the Russian troll factory, the Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos and his partners in crime, the “Professor” (whose academic credentials are in doubt), and the “Female Russian National” (who appears to have fraudulently presented herself as Putin’s niece) is that they are all crooks and frauds. This is not a moral assessment, or an attempt to downplay their importance. It is an attempt to stop talking in terms of states and geopolitics and begin looking at Mafias and profits.

Just to ensure we don’t think she’s arrived at her conclusion via a hint from Mueller, Gessen specifically notes:

I’m not invoking the Mob because Stone encouraged an associate to behave like a character from “The Godfather Part II,” as detailed in his indictment.

To wit:

On multiple occasions, including on or about December 1, 2017, STONE told Person 2 that Person 2 should do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before [U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] in order to avoid contradicting STONE’s testimony. Frank Pentangeli is a character in the film The Godfather: Part II, which both STONE and Person 2 had discussed, who testifies before a congressional committee and in that testimony claims not to know critical information that he does in fact know.


Nope, she’s on a different tack entirely — has been since the very beginning:

From the first allegations, in July, 2016, of Russian meddling in the U.S. election campaign to the arrest of President Donald Trump’s former adviser Roger Stone last week, many of us who write about Russia professionally, or who are Russian, have struggled to square what we know with the emerging narrative. In this story, Russia waged a sophisticated and audacious operation to subvert American elections and install a President of its choice—it pulled off a coup. Tell that to your average American liberal, and you’ll get a nod of recognition. Tell it to your average Russian liberal (admittedly a much smaller category), and you’ll get uproarious laughter. Russians know that their state lacks the competence to mount a sophisticated sabotage effort, that the Kremlin was even more surprised by Trump’s election than was the candidate himself, and that Russian-American relations are at their most dysfunctional since the height of the Cold War. And yet the indictments keep coming.

If that piques your interest as it piqued mine — by all means read Ms Gessen‘s piece in its entirety. Me, about now I’d be very interested in Ambassador McFaul‘s take.

And Julia Ioffe‘s.

A Brief Note on the Benghazi Hearings

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

There is legitimate room for debate if there could have been an effective military reaction to the attack in Libya by al Qaida terrorists that killed Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel.  One was apparently never seriously entertained  by senior White House, State Department and Pentagon officials. I think there ought to have been an effort to move heaven and earth and far, far greater willingness to inflict massive casualties on an attacking Libyan mob than existed, but in fairness to the Obama administration, a seat-of-the-pants, unsupported, undermanned response could also have been a replay of Blackhawk Down or Desert One. It’s a tough judgment call for any President.

That’s not why the Obama administration is in trouble today.

Poorly supported security and inept decision making by the State Department in Libya was likewise, disappointing but politically survivable and sadly, unsurprising.. We have seen similar bungling before and after 9/11 by most of our major national security departments and agencies at one time or another. It is a bipartisan phenomenon, albeit one we take far too lightly.

No, as damning testimony today made clear, the Obama administration is in trouble because their poor but not remarkably so handling of Benghazi was shielded by a ridiculous lie told entirely for partisan gain and to protect the overrated reputations and overweening egos of various administration bigwigs, most notably the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Is there anyone today – anyone at all – who still believes that Benghazi occurred because of an obscure crackpot’s video on youtube?

Had the administration manfully said “This attack is a terrible tragedy and we dropped the ball but you can believe we won’t make a similar mistake tracking down the people who did this and make them pay” most Americans would have accepted that. No, not rabid partisan Republicans, but most Americans would have wanted to back the President, any President, in the wake of such terrorism which is directed, in the last analysis, at all of us.

They did not – and much of the rest of their reaction indicates that the real concern at State and the White House was and still is with the temerity of their political opponents in daring to demand they account for their actions as if we lived in a Republic or something.

In American politics, it is the self-inflicted wounds that fester and turn gangrenous

Possible Shifts in AfPak

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011


On Pakistan policy, credit where credit is due: the Obama administration has found the stones to respond to evidence of systemic and brazen bad faith on the part of our Pakistani “allies” and show their displeasure by witholding $ 800 million dollars in aid from Islamabad. There are already squeals of Pakistani unhappiness at this modest decrease of aid that all too frequently gets diverted to preparing to make war on India or, for that matter, on American soldiers and Marines. Former dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who cannot go back home to Rawalpindi for fear his brother officers will assassinate him, told a well appointed crowd in Houston that the aid cut “will be disastrous….if Pakistan is weakened, how will it fight terrorism?“.

Cynics might note that we could replace “fight” with “fund” in the former Pakistani ruler’s question and achieve greater historical accuracy.

On Afghanistan, it might be advisable for the new American commander, Lieutenant General John Allen, in carrying out his extremely difficult mission of “Afghanization” and “punitive raiding” the Taliban, to first ponder history and  “Remember Herat“.

In 1979, before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the entire garrison of Soviet advisers in Herat was slaughtered, including the dependent women and children, by an angry mob that was aided by the local Afghan Communist Army units who, led by Ismail Khan, conveniently revolted and turned on their Russian allies. If British military history is more to Lt. General Allen’s taste, the Afghans massacred British garrisons in Kabul twice in the 19th century, Major Cavagnari’s in 1878 and that of Sir William McNaghten and Sir Alexander Burnes in 1841, though most of the British died to all but the last man on the retreat to Jalalabad in 1842.

The cape wearing, election-stealing, lotus-eater whom we thanklessly prop up, may be more incompetent than Nur Mohammed Taraki and less legitimate a client than Shah Shuja, but he has a demonstrated talent for inciting anti-western violence exceeded only by his enterprise in looting aid money. Is crazy Karzai above lighting a match to a tense situation the US military itself has already described as a “rapidly growing systemic threat“? Not in my view.

When the American drawdown begins in earnest, General Allen will need to watch the backs of his troops


Ahmed Wali Karzai, the notorious fixer and feared enforcer of the Afghan regime and the brother of President Hamid Karzai was assassinated today. The Taliban claimed credit, but AWK has too many enemies to be certain yet.

Egypt: prayer vs water cannons

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron cross-posted from Brainstormers on the Web ]

For location / background, see Helena Cobban, Tactical deployment of Muslim prayer in nonviolence.

The image is from the middle of this YouTube video — you can see the prayers begin around the 3.25 mark, and the ending is also worth watching, as Cobban notes.

Fiction: Tom Scott, Flash Mob Gone Wrong

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

by Charles Cameron 

A tip of the hat to John Robb, astute observer of emerging human dynamics and author of Brave New War, for the pointer on his Global Guerrillas blog today to this recent Tom Scott talk, in which a smart mob is not so smart:
Coming soon to a future near you?
[ cross-posted from SmartMobs ]

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