Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Russia signs treaties with 2 breakaway regions

Sept. 17, 2008 MOSCOW (AP) 

Russia cemented its ties with Georgia's two breakaway provinces on Wednesday by signing friendship treaties envisaging close economic and military cooperation.

President Dmitry Medvedev pledged that Russia will protect Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia has recognized as two independent nations after the last month's war with Georgia.
"Our key task today is to ensure security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Medvedev said during an elaborate signing ceremony in the Kremlin. "The treaties envisage that our nations together will take all the necessary steps to fend off threats to peace. We won't allow any new military adventurism, no one must have any illusions about that."
Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze dismissed the treaties as legally void.
"Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region are inseparable parts of Georgia," Vashadze told reporters in the Georgian capital. "The treaties signed in Moscow carry no legal force and contradict international law."
Eduard Kokoity, the South Ossetian leader, and Sergei Bagapsh, the leader of Abkhazia, signed the treaties with Medvedev.
Russia has said it will permanently deploy nearly 8,000 troops in the regions on a long-term basis.  MORE....

September 14, 2008

Unify the Baltic States to Counter Russia

By Jim Hoagland

WASHINGTON -- Russia is developing a comprehensive strategy of bleeding American power around the globe. The U.S. must respond not at its point of greatest weakness, as the Bush administration may be tempted to do, but at its points of strength.
Russia's leaders have made it clear over the past month that their invasion of Georgia is not an isolated retaliation against a troublesome small neighbor. It is part of a broader effort by the Kremlin to establish new rules for big-power relations on its own terms while U.S. forces are stretched to their limits in the greater Middle East.
The emerging change in power relationships does not rise to the level so far of a new Cold War. Look at President Dmitry Medvedev's recent tut-tuting comments about U.S. economic and military problems and you sense that he subscribes to the opportunist's creed of kicking people when they are down: Of course you kick them. When else are you going to kick them?
But the Kremlin's larger intent -- to create "a new world order" on the back of gathering U.S. weakness -- has emerged with stunning clarity and velocity in the past three months. Russia is thinking strategically about world affairs while an expiring U.S. administration is not.
That sentiment echoes more loudly through Russia's declarations in the aftermath of the Georgian crisis. "A single-pole world is unacceptable," Medvedev said in laying out his five principles of international behavior for the 21st century on Aug. 31. "We cannot accept a world order in which one country makes all the decisions, even as serious and influential a country as the United States."
Medvedev also asserted Russia's claim to a sphere of "privileged interests" in former Soviet states and other neighboring countries. The unspoken corollary of this fifth Medvedev principle was that the U.S. and its NATO partners were not strong enough to resist this doctrine of hegemony.
It is no coincidence that the Russian resurgence comes at an awkward time for the United States. Advisers to both Barack Obama and John McCain had hoped for a relatively quiet six-month period after the next inaugural to test or develop a new relationship with Medvedev. But those hopes have evaporated since the invasion of Georgia and the expansion of Russian ambitions on the world stage.
Close cooperation between President Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who currently serves as president of the European Union -- has prevented the Russians from using the conflict in Georgia to divide Washington and its NATO allies. But wedge-driving remains a primary Russian goal that must be resisted.
That can best be accomplished by concentrating on Russia's northern flank, where NATO is united and relatively strong, rather than becoming embroiled in new quarrels over a future NATO role in the Caucasus region and in Ukraine, where the alliance is still divided.
This is the time for Bush and other NATO leaders to give high priority and visibility to discussions with Finland, which is currently considering joining NATO. If Finland joins, Sweden might follow, Swedish officials say.
Alliance members also should move now to bolster the defenses of the three Baltic NATO members -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- as Kurt Volker, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, has recently suggested. The holding of no-notice joint maneuvers with the Baltic States would be one way to catch Russia's attention.
These steps would be far more effective than an overtly political effort by Bush to make one last stand for Georgian and Ukrainian membership plans at NATO's December meeting. That would be a quixotic, destructive gesture that has no chance of success.
A spirited debate is erupting piecemeal within the administration over whether to give priority to a northern flank initiative like the one I have described or to confront the Russians politically and verbally in Georgia. Go north, Mr. President.
And make that debate much more systematic and comprehensive. After seven years of fighting jihadist terrorism globally and pursuing shooting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you must now adjust U.S. global strategy to deal with a Russian bid to fashion a new world order essentially without you.  MORE....

Bad news for the country is good news for Democrats

Yesterday on CNN's Anderson Cooper's 360, the group discussed how Obama's team has been looking for bad economic news

Here's the transcript of the exchange among the CNN folks.  Everything is just a game to these folks....

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But what happened over the weekend with the economy and the bottom falling out of the financial markets -- and we have been saying for some time on this program this is the worst financial crisis since the Depression -- Alan Greenspan said on Sunday the worst economic situation he's seen -- it seems to me that there's a real turning point now, that that momentum on McCain's side is likely to fade. And there is the opportunity for Obama to seize the momentum back on his side. I don't know if he's going to do it or not. He is trying. McCain has an opportunity here as well. But there's no question right now that this -- this really dark economic situation is now going to be -- is going to really -- is going to, I think, blot out a lot of this question about who -- the backing-and-forthing and the advertising, and focus on the issues.


GERGEN: And that's what -- that's what Obama has wanted to do. He's now got the opportunity.

I think, personally, he's got the critique down, but he still hasn't provided a message about what he would do, nor has he really surrounded himself, in the way he needs to, with the Bob Rubins and the Paul Volckers and the Larry Summers and Laura Tysons, and have them as a tight unit. I think he still has to do that.

COOPER: Candy, no doubt -- very quickly -- on the campaign trail, it obviously played a big role today. You anticipate, in the days ahead, issue number one, it's going to be front and center?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN: Oh, absolutely.

I mean, listen, just as foreclosures were showing up on B-17, or in the real estate section, along comes this horrific headline out of Wall Street.

COOPER: Right.

CROWLEY: I mean, this is what they wanted. They believe, of course, that the economy is one of their strengths and that they can paint John McCain as George Bush.

Gen. Petraeus Farewell Letter

It Reads:

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and Civilians of
Multi-National Force-Iraq:

It has been the greatest of privileges to have been your commander for the
past 19 months. During that time,we and our civilian and Iraqi partners have
been engaged in an exceedingly complex, difficult, and important task. And in the
face of numerous challenges, we and our partners have helped bring new hope to a
country that 
was besieged by extremists and engulfed in sectarian violence.

When I took command of Multi-National Force-Iraq in February 2007, I noted
that the situation in Iraq 
was hard but not hopeless. You have proven that
assessment to be correct. Indeed, your great work, sacrifice, courage, and skill
have helped to reverse a downward spiral toward civil war and to wrest the
initiative from the enemies of the new Iraq.

Together, Iraqi and Coalition Forces have faced determined, adaptable, and
barbaric enemies. You and our Iraqi partners have taken the fight to them, and
you have taken away their sanctuaries and safe havens. You have helped secure
the Iraqi people and have enabled, and capitalized on, their rejection of
extremism. You have also supported the Iraqi Security Forces as they have grown
in number and capability and as they have 
increasingly shouldered more of the
responsibility for security in their country.

You have not just secured the Iraqi people, you have served them, as well.
By helping establish local governance, supporting reconstruction efforts,
assisting with revitalization of local businesses, fostering local reconciliation, and conducting a host 
of other non-kinetic activities, you have contributed significantly tothe communities in which you have operated. Indeed, you have been builders and diplomats as well as guardians and warriors.

The progress achieved has been hard-earned. There have been many tough days
along the way, and we have suffered tragic losses. Indeed, nothing in Iraq has
been anything but hard. But you have been 
more than equal to every task.

Your accomplishments have, in fact, been the stuff of history. Each of you
should be proud of what has 
been achieved and of the contributions you continue
to make. Although our tasks in Iraq are far from complete 
and hard work and tough
fights lie ahead, you have helped bring about remarkable improvements.

Your new commander is precisely the right man for the job. General Ray
Odierno played a central role in the progress achieved during the surge. He
brings tremendous skill, experience, and understanding as he returns 
to Iraq for
a third tour and takes the helm of 
MNF-I just seven months after relinquishing
command of 
MultiNational Corps-Iraq. I have total confidence in him, and I will
do all that I can as the commander of Central Command to help him, 
MNF-I, and our Iraqi partners to achieve the important goals that we all share for the new Iraq.

Thank you for your magnificent work here in the "Land 
of the Two Rivers." And thank you for your sacrifices-and for those of your families--during this crucial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I am honored to have soldiered with you in this critical endeavor.

With great respect and all best wishes

David H. 
General, United States Army


Barack Obama's White House campaign angrily denied (?) Monday a report that he had secretly urged the Iraqis to postpone a deal to withdraw US troops until after November's election.
In the New York Post, conservative Iranian-born columnist Amir Taheri quoted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as saying the Democrat made the demand when he visited Baghdad in July, while publicly demanding an early withdrawal.
"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview, according to Taheri.
"However, as an Iraqi, I prefer to have a security agreement that regulates the activities of foreign troops, rather than keeping the matter open," Zebari reportedly said.
The Republican campaign of John McCain seized on the report to accuse Obama of double-speak on Iraq, calling it an "egregious act of political interference by a presidential candidate seeking political advantage overseas."
But Obama's national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Taheri's article bore "as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial."
In fact, Obama had told the Iraqis that they should not rush through a "Strategic Framework Agreement" governing the future of US forces until after President George W. Bush leaves office, she said.
Which is exactly what Amir Taheri quoted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as saying....Obama has now confirmed the report!

Has Obama committed a fatal mistake?  A Crime?

Amir Taheri has reported in todays NY Post that during his trip to Iraq, Sen. Obama attempted to pressure Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and others into delaying the removal of US Troops until after the election, and the swearing in of the new President.  He also attempted to persuade the US Military commanders to take the same position, and not recommend sending the troops home. They declined. 

LONG VIEW: Barack Obama tours Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus in July, when he sought to stall any agreement for US troop withdrawal until President Bush left office.

Not only is this in direct opposition to the position that Sen. Obama has consistently pressed (getting the troops out immediately), but may also be a violation of US law.

Interestingly, although the Iraqi's felt that Sen. Obabma had a higher probability of winning the election, they did not trust Sen. Obama.  Maybe we shouldn't either.

Full story here....

Sergeant Schultz Defense

Lee Cary presents a partial look at the investigation that the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times have been pursuing into the dealings between Barack Obama and public housing developers in Chicago.  The question that must be asked, especially in the wake of the media's frenzied and over the top investigation into the minutia of Gov. Sarah Palin's life, is why the same assiduous pursuit of the truth has not been conducted on Sen. Obama? In addition, since the Main Stream Media hasn't stepped up to the plate and investigated the story, it would seem that the Republican Party should at least mirror the Democrats' approach to sending hoards of lawyers up to Alaska to investigate Gov. Palin and her family, by sending a highly vaccinated team of lawyers to dig through the reeking muck that is Chicago politics.  Well, they'd have to be heavily armoured too, given the risk of probing Daleyland.

So far, Sen. Obama's response to any question about his links with nefarious characters has been the Sargent Schultz Defense; "I knew nothing"....

September 16, 2008

Obama 's Friends and Chicago's New Slums

By Lee Cary

In 1993, Barack Obama joined a Chicago law firm that specialized in helping develop low-income housing. In time, the job would bring him political support from slum landlords who make Clinton's shady Arkansas associates look like teenage shoplifters. 

Obama's connections with public housing developers and property managers have been investigated in depth by a cadre of reporters from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times. The major TV networks and national print media, particularly the New York Times and Washington Post, have ignored their findings.

Once the media declared the Tony Rezko story over when he was convicted in federal court, the national media's attention turned away from Chicago. Here's just part of the story they've missed.  MORE....

9/15 Polls

Yesterday's Polls, 9/15  from www.fivethirtyeight.com

Firstly, Obama has been polling a couple of points ahead of our trendline for the past couple days. That could be noise, or it could be a sign that the race is turning a bit. Our model inherently behaves conservatively, and assumes the former until "proven" otherwise.

There's More...

Multiculturalism and it's impact on the 'hood

Another great insight from Thomas Sowell....

Apparently there are middle-class blacks who spend a lot of time and energy worrying about losing their roots and losing touch with their black brothers back in the 'hood.
In one sense, it is good that there are people who think about others less fortunate than themselves. That's fine but, like most good things, it can be carried to the point where it is both ridiculous and counterproductive for all concerned.
In a world where an absolute majority of black children are born and raised in fatherless homes, where most black kids never finish high school and where the murder rate among blacks is several times the national average, surely there must be more urgent priorities than preserving a lifestyle and an identity.
During decades of researching racial and ethnic groups in countries around the world-- with special attention to those who began in poverty and then rose to prosperity-- I have yet to find one so preoccupied with tribalistic identity as to want to maintain solidarity with all members of their group, regardless of what they do or how they do it.
Any group that rises has to have norms, and that means repudiating those who violate those norms, if you are serious. Blind tribalism means letting the lowest common denominator determine the norms and the fate of the whole group.
There was a time when most blacks, like most of the Irish or the Jews, understood this common sense. But that was before the romanticizing of identity took over, beginning in the 1960s.
Back in 19th century America, the Catholic Church took on the task of changing the behavior of the poverty-stricken Irish immigrants, in order to prepare them to rise in American society. As this transformation succeeded, employers' signs that said "No Irish Need Apply" began to disappear in the 20th century.
The Jewish community likewise made many efforts to change the behavior of immigrants from Eastern Europe, to enable them to better fit into American society-- and to rise in that society.
The Urban League and other black uplift groups made similar efforts to prepare their fellow blacks to rise in American society. In fact, those efforts began to pay off in dramatic reductions in poverty among blacks, even before the civil rights laws of the 1960s.
The unanswered question is why an approach with a proven track record, not only in American society but in various other countries around the world, has been superseded by a philosophy of tribal identity over-riding issues of behavior and performance.
Part of the problem is the "multicultural" ideology that says all cultures are equally valid. It is hard even to know what that means, much less take it seriously as a guide to living in the real world.
Will time and energy spent on rap music and wearing low-riding baggy pants like guys in prison-- as badges of identity-- provide as good a future for young people as learning math, computers and the English language?
Romantic self-indulgence and self-deception are things that some people can afford when they reach the point where they can afford identity angst. But millions of other people will remain mired in poverty if they believe such notions.  MORE....

The Gibson Doctrine

The Gibson Doctrine:

Confront Republicans, act obsequious toward tyrants.

Charlie Gibson showed far greater hostility toward the Republican vice-presidential candidate than Dan Rather did in his interview with Saddam Hussein or Mike Wallace did in his interview with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Which reminds me of another Talmudic dictum: "Those who are merciful to the cruel will be cruel to the merciful."
We might call it the media's Gibson Doctrine: Confront Republicans, act obsequious toward tyrants.
Read the rest of Dennis Prager's column....

The Russian Resurgence and the New-Old Front

I'm publishing the following Stratfor analysis because of the significant impact it suggests that Russia's renewed push on the world stage will have on the United States.  The report makes a compelling case that the highest likely approach that Russia will employ to balance off it's position vis-a-vis the US, will be to concentrate on extending it's influence in South America, Central America, and most importantly, Mexico.  Some of this can already be seen in the visit by Russian Bombers to Venezuela last week. 

If accurate, this report promises the new President the opportunity to work on many new issues, and be able to differentiate himself quite significantly from President Bush........

The Russian Resurgence and the New-Old Front

September 15, 2008

Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

By Peter Zeihan
Related Special Topic Page
·         The Russian Resurgence
Russia is attempting to reforge its Cold War-era influence in its near abroad. This is not simply an issue of nostalgia, but a perfectly logical and predictable reaction to the Russian environment. Russia lacks easily definable, easily defendable borders. There is no redoubt to which the Russians can withdraw, and the only security they know comes from establishing buffers — buffers which tend to be lost in times of crisis. The alternative is for Russia to simply trust other states to leave it alone. Considering Russia’s history of occupations, from the Mongol horde to Napoleonic France to Hitler’s Germany, it is not difficult to surmise why the Russians tend to choose a more activist set of policies.
As such, the country tends to expand and contract like a beating heart — gobbling up nearby territories in times of strength, and then contracting and losing those territories in times of weakness. Rather than what Westerners think of as a traditional nation-state, Russia has always been a multiethnic empire, heavily stocked with non-Russian (and even non-Orthodox) minorities. Keeping those minorities from damaging central control requires a strong internal security and intelligence arm, and hence we get the Cheka, the KGB, and now the FSB.

Nature of the Budding Conflict

Combine a security policy thoroughly wedded to expansion with an internal stabilization policy that institutionalizes terror, and it is understandable why most of Russia’s neighbors do not like Moscow very much. A fair portion of Western history revolves around the formation and shifting of coalitions to manage Russian insecurities.
In the American case specifically, the issue is one of continental control. The United States is the only country in the world that effectively controls an entire continent. Mexico and Canada have been sufficiently intimidated so that they can operate independently only in a very limited sense. (Technically, Australia controls a continent, but with the some 85 percent of its territory unusable, it is more accurate in geopolitical terms to think of it as a small archipelago with some very long bridges.) This grants the United States not only a potentially massive internal market, but also the ability to project power without the fear of facing rearguard security threats. U.S. forces can be focused almost entirely on offensive operations, whereas potential competitors in Eurasia must constantly be on their guard about the neighbors.
The only thing that could threaten U.S. security would be the rise of a Eurasian continental hegemon. For the past 60 years, Russia (or the Soviet Union) has been the only entity that has had a chance of achieving that, largely due to its geographic reach. U.S. strategy for coping with this is simple: containment, or the creation of a network of allies to hedge in Russian political, economic and military expansion. NATO is the most obvious manifestation of this policy imperative, while the Sino-Soviet split is the most dramatic one.
Containment requires that United States counter Russian expansionism at every turn, crafting a new coalition wherever Russia attempts to break out of the strategic ring, and if necessary committing direct U.S. forces to the effort. The Korean and Vietnam wars — both traumatic periods in American history — were manifestations of this effort, as were the Berlin airlift and the backing of Islamist militants in Afghanistan (who incidentally went on to form al Qaeda).
The Georgian war in August was simply the first effort by a resurging Russia to pulse out, expand its security buffer and, ideally, in the Kremlin’s plans, break out of the post-Cold War noose that other powers have tied. The Americans (and others) will react as they did during the Cold War: by building coalitions to constrain Russian expansion. In Europe, the challenges will be to keep the Germans on board and to keep NATO cohesive. In the Caucasus, the United States will need to deftly manage its Turkish alliance and find a means of engaging Iran. In China and Japan, economic conflicts will undoubtedly take a backseat to security cooperation.
Russia and the United States will struggle in all of these areas, consisting as they do the Russian borderlands. Most of the locations will feel familiar, as Russia’s near abroad has been Russia’s near abroad for nearly 300 years. Those locations — the Baltics, Austria, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Central Asia and Mongolia — that defined Russia’s conflicts in times gone by will surface again. Such is the tapestry of history: the major powers seeking advantage in the same places over and over again.

The New Old-Front

But not all of those fronts are in Eurasia. So long as U.S. power projection puts the Russians on the defensive, it is only a matter of time before something along the cordon cracks and the Russians are either fighting a land war or facing a local insurrection. Russia must keep U.S. efforts dispersed and captured by events as far away from the Russian periphery as possible — preferably where Russian strengths can exploit American weakness.
So where is that?
Geography dictates that U.S. strength involves coalition building based on mutual interest and long-range force projection, and internal U.S. harmony is such that America’s intelligence and security agencies have no need to shine. Unlike Russia, the United States does not have large, unruly, resentful, conquered populations to keep in line. In contrast, recall that the multiethnic nature of the Russian state requires a powerful security and intelligence apparatus. No place better reflects Russia’s intelligence strengths and America’s intelligence weakness than Latin America.
The United States faces no traditional security threats in its backyard. South America is in essence a hollow continent, populated only on the edges and thus lacking a deep enough hinterland to ever coalesce into a single hegemonic power. Central America and southern Mexico are similarly fractured, primarily due to rugged terrain. Northern Mexico (like Canada) is too economically dependent upon the United States to seriously consider anything more vibrant than ideological hostility toward Washington. Faced with this kind of local competition, the United States simply does not worry too much about the rest of the Western Hemisphere — except when someone comes to visit.
Stretching back to the time of the Monroe Doctrine, Washington’s Latin American policy has been very simple. The United States does not feel threatened by any local power, but it feels inordinately threatened by any Eastern Hemispheric power that could ally with a local entity. Latin American entities cannot greatly harm American interests themselves, but they can be used as fulcrums by hostile states further abroad to strike at the core of the United States’ power: its undisputed command of North America.
It is a fairly straightforward exercise to predict where Russian activity will reach its deepest. One only needs to revisit Cold War history. Future Russian efforts can be broken down into three broad categories: naval interdiction, drug facilitation and direct territorial challenge.
Naval Interdiction
Naval interdiction represents the longest sustained fear of American policymakers. Among the earliest U.S. foreign efforts after securing the mainland was asserting control over the various waterways used for approaching North America. Key in this American geopolitical imperative is the neutralization of Cuba. All the naval power-projection capabilities in the world mean very little if Cuba is both hostile and serving as a basing ground for an extra-hemispheric power.
The U.S. Gulf Coast is not only the heart of the country’s energy industry, but the body of water that allows the United States to function as a unified polity and economy. The Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi river basins all drain to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The economic strength of these basins depends upon access to oceanic shipping. A hostile power in Cuba could fairly easily seal both the Straits of Florida and the Yucatan Channel, reducing the Gulf of Mexico to little more than a lake.
Building on the idea of naval interdiction, there is another key asset the Soviets targeted at which the Russians are sure to attempt a reprise: the Panama Canal. For both economic and military reasons, it is enormously convenient to not have to sail around the Americas, especially because U.S. economic and military power is based on maritime power and access. In the Cold War, the Soviets established friendly relations with Nicaragua and arranged for a favorable political evolution on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Like Cuba, these two locations are of dubious importance by themselves. But take them together — and add in a Soviet air base at each location as well as in Cuba — and there is a triangle of Soviet airpower that can threaten access to the Panama Canal.
Drug Facilitation
The next stage — drug facilitation — is somewhat trickier. South America is a wide and varying land with very little to offer Russian interests. Most of the states are commodity providers, much like the Soviet Union was and Russia is today, so they are seen as economic competitors. Politically, they are useful as anti-American bastions, so the Kremlin encourages such behavior whenever possible. But even if every country in South America were run by anti-American governments, it would not overly concern Washington; these states, alone or en masse, lack the ability to threaten American interests … in all ways but one.
The drug trade undermines American society from within, generating massive costs for social stability, law enforcement, the health system and trade. During the Cold War, the Soviets dabbled with narcotics producers and smugglers, from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to the highland coca farmers of Bolivia. It is not so much that the Soviets encouraged the drug trade directly, but that they encouraged any group they saw as ideologically useful.
Stratfor expects future Russian involvement in such activities to eclipse those of the past. After the Soviet fall, many FSB agents were forced to find new means to financially support themselves. (Remember it was not until 1999 that Vladimir Putin took over the Russian government and began treating Russian intelligence like a bona fide state asset again.) The Soviet fall led many FSB agents, who already possessed more than a passing familiarity with things such as smuggling and organized crime, directly into the heart of such activities. Most of those agents are — formally or not — back in the service of the Russian government, now with a decade of gritty experience on the less savory side of intelligence under their belts. And they now have a deeply personal financial interest in the outcome of future operations.
Drug groups do not need cash from the Russians, but they do need weaponry and a touch of training — needs which dovetail perfectly with the Russians’ strengths. Obviously, Russian state involvement in such areas will be far from overt; it just does not do to ship weapons to the FARC or to one side of the brewing Bolivian civil war with CNN watching. But this is a challenge the Russians are good at meeting. One of Russia’s current deputy prime ministers, Igor Sechin, was the USSR’s point man for weapons smuggling to much of Latin America and the Middle East. This really is old hat for them.
U.S. Stability
Finally, there is the issue of direct threats to U.S. stability, and this point rests solely on Mexico. With more than 100 million people, a growing economy and Atlantic and Pacific ports, Mexico is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that could theoretically (which is hardly to say inevitably) threaten U.S. dominance in North America. During the Cold War, Russian intelligence gave Mexico more than its share of jolts in efforts to cause chronic problems for the United States. In fact, the Mexico City KGB station was, and remains today, the biggest in the world. The Mexico City riots of 1968 were in part Soviet-inspired, and while ultimately unsuccessful at overthrowing the Mexican government, they remain a testament to the reach of Soviet intelligence. The security problems that would be created by the presence of a hostile state the size of Mexico on the southern U.S. border are as obvious as they would be dangerous.
As with involvement in drug activities, which incidentally are likely to overlap in Mexico, Stratfor expects Russia to be particularly active in destabilizing Mexico in the years ahead. But while an anti-American state is still a Russian goal, it is not their only option. The Mexican drug cartels have reached such strength that the Mexican government’s control over large portions of the country is an open question. Failure of the Mexican state is something that must be considered even before the Russians get involved. And simply doing with the Mexican cartels what the Soviets once did with anti-American militant groups the world over could suffice to tip the balance.
In many regards, Mexico as a failed state would be a worse result for Washington than a hostile united Mexico. A hostile Mexico could be intimidated, sanctioned or even invaded, effectively browbeaten into submission. But a failed Mexico would not restrict the drug trade at all. The border would be chaos, and the implications of that go well beyond drugs. One of the United States’ largest trading partners could well devolve into a seething anarchy that could not help but leak into the U.S. proper.
Whether Mexico becomes staunchly anti-American or devolves into the violent chaos of a failed state does not matter much to the Russians. Either one would threaten the United States with a staggering problem that no amount of resources could quickly or easily fix. And the Russians right now are shopping around for staggering problems with which to threaten the United States.
In terms of cost-benefit analysis, all of these options are no-brainers. Threatening naval interdiction simply requires a few jets. Encouraging the drug trade can be done with a few weapons shipments. Destabilizing a country just requires some creativity. However, countering such activities requires a massive outlay of intelligence and military assets — often into areas that are politically and militarily hostile, if not outright inaccessible. In many ways, this is containment in reverse.

Old Opportunities, New Twists

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega has proven so enthusiastic in his nostalgia for Cold War alignments that Nicaragua has already recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two territories in the former Soviet state (and U.S. ally) of Georgia that Russia went to war to protect. That makes Nicaragua the only country in the world other than Russia to recognize the breakaway regions. Moscow is quite obviously pleased — and was undoubtedly working the system behind the scenes.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales is attempting to rewrite the laws that govern his country’s wealth distribution in favor of his poor supporters in the indigenous highlands. Now, a belt of conflict separates those highlands, which are roughly centered at the pro-Morales city of Cochabamba, from the wealthier, more Europeanized lowlands. A civil war is brewing — a conflict that is just screaming for outside interference, as similar fights did during the Cold War. It is likely only a matter of time before the headlines become splattered with pictures of Kalashnikov-wielding Cochabambinos decrying American imperialism.
Yet while the winds of history are blowing in the same old channels, there certainly are variations on the theme. The Mexican cartels, for one, were radically weaker beasts the last time around, and their current strength and disruptive capabilities present the Russians with new options.
So does Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a man so anti-American he seems to be even a few steps ahead of Kremlin propagandists. In recent days, Chavez has already hosted long-range Russian strategic bombers and evicted the U.S. ambassador. A glance at a map indicates that Venezuela is a far superior basing point than Grenada for threatening the Panama Canal. Additionally, Chavez’s Venezuela has already indicated both its willingness to get militarily involved in the Bolivian conflict and its willingness to act as a weapons smuggler via links to the FARC — and that without any heretofore detected Russian involvement. The opportunities for smuggling networks — both old and new — using Venezuela as a base are robust.
Not all changes since the Cold War are good for Russia, however. Cuba is not as blindly pro-Russian as it once was. While Russian hurricane aid to Cuba is a bid to reopen old doors, the Cubans are noticeably hesitant. Between the ailing of Fidel Castro and the presence of the world’s largest market within spitting distance, the emerging Cuban regime is not going to reflexively side with the Russians for peanuts. In Soviet times, Cuba traded massive Soviet subsidies in exchange for its allegiance. A few planeloads of hurricane aid simply won’t pay the bills in Havana, and it is still unclear how much money the Russians are willing to come up with.
There is also the question of Brazil. Long gone is the dysfunctional state; Brazil is now an emerging industrial powerhouse with an energy company, Petroleo Brasileiro, of skill levels that outshine anything the Russians have yet conquered in that sphere. While Brazilian rhetoric has always claimed that Brazil was just about to come of age, it now happens to be true. A rising Brazil is feeling its strength and tentatively pushing its influence into the border states of Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as into regional rivals Venezuela and Argentina. Russian intervention tends to appeal to those who do not feel they have meaningful control over their own neighborhoods. Brazil no longer fits into that category, and it will not appreciate Russia’s mucking around in its neighborhood.
A few weeks ago, Stratfor published a piece detailing how U.S. involvement in the Iraq war was winding to a close. We received many comments from readers applauding our optimism. We are afraid that we were misinterpreted. “New” does not mean “bright” or “better,” but simply different. And the dawning struggle in Latin America is an example of the sort of “different” that the United States can look forward to in the years ahead. Buckle up.

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