Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Fine Reputation, Once

When a juvenile is accused of breaking the law, people near to him may utter something like "he was such a good kid. It must be the crowd he got into." In a best-case scenario, Lt. General H.R. McMaster is suffering the same fate, for David Frum tweets "one of the finest reputations in the US military is not an asset to be cast away in this manner."

That has been manifested twice rently.  Reuters reports

Asked about reports that Donald Trump's son-in-law had tried to set up a secret channel of communication with Russia before the president took office, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that so-called "back-channeling" was normal.

McMaster declined to speak specifically about the case of Jared Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser to Trump, but when asked if it would concern him if someone in the administration tried to set up a back channel with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin, he replied "no".

"We have back-channel communications with any number of individual (countries). So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner," McMaster said.

"So it doesn't pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we're not concerned about it."

When the content of the meeting is kept secret for approximately three months- as this one did- blackmail becomes plausible. Of course, that would have been less likely had Kushner tried to set up such "back-channel communications" with, say, the Netherlands rather than a geopolitical enemy such as Russia.  It also may have been helpful had it occurred after his father-in-law had actually become President or if someone had informed the NSA or the CIA of the scheme.

Former FBI agent and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute Clint Watts argues "The idea of using Russian facilities to skirt Russian surveillance in the U.S. would either be a serious attempt to hide something or the actions of a young amateur."  A real estate tycoon arguably worth nearly a billion dollars, Kushner is no amateur.

McMaster's lack of concern, given the paucity of detail about the incident, should be troubling. Nonetheless, at least he (presumably) didn't lie there, unlike when

"I think it's extraordinary that there would be an expectation that the president would have to say explicitly that he supports Article 5. Of course he does," McMaster told reporters at the end of a Group of Seven summit in Sicily.

"He did not make a decision not to say it," McMaster continued. "It was implicit in the speech. There was no decision to not put it in there. It is a matter of fact that the United States, the president, stands firmly behind our Article 5 commitments under NATO."

In his speech in Brussels, the President noted that after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 "Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments."

But this was not the USA standing behind its own commitments to NATO, but rather those nations standing behind their commitment on behalf of  America. Trump added

.... grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the Alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense.

This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States...

This was less an implicit recognition by the President of his nation's commitment to Article 5 than an implied threat that if other nations don't pony up the dough, he may have to reconsider the USA's posture. It was a shout-out to  the isolationists who were energized by the candidate who criticized US military intevention abroad, yet stated of ISIS “I would bomb the shit out of them. I’d just bomb those suckers. I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch—there would be nothing left.” And of course take their oil, because we're the biggest, the best, and always entitled.

Of giving Kushner a pass, Malcolm Nance tweets "McMaster headed to disgrace. He's willfully ignorant of allegations or willing to risk our national security. Either one is disqualifying."

There, the National Security Advisor blew smoke up our backside, as he did commenting on Trump's NATO speech.   Lieutenant HR McMaster is in with a bad crowd, and it's up to him to start leveling with the American people or get out..

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