Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Humanity and Security: Can There Be a Balance?

How should the United States and other countries react to the current refugee crisis?  As we read and watch stories of families, women and children in particular, fleeing the violence, death, and hunger in Syria, we see an obvious and evident need to provide meaningful humanitarian service to include a place of refuge.  Yet, in light of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the possibility of terrorists making it into the the US on the coattails of refugees, it makes the safety and security of the homeland a legitimate concern.

How do we provide needed humanitarian relief while ensuring the safety and security of our homes and families?  Does our own security outweigh the plight of all of those refugees who now have only their lives to lose?  Do we freely open our borders to 10,000, to 100,000, or to more without question?  Do we shut our borders and allow none of those from Syria into our country?

I believe we can retain our humanity and help without being reckless with our security, but it will take caution, patience, and understanding.  We need to observe closely what has happened in Paris.  Did those terrorists truly come into Europe with the Syrian refugees?  If so, how did they do it?  Can we prevent something similar from happening here?

We need our government to explain to us in sufficient detail, while maintaining necessary operational security, how they will vet refugees coming into the United States.  Where are they coming from before they enter the US?  What is the vetting process and demographic parameters?  What will we do to keep track of refugees once they enter the country?  Our government should provide us a review of the success and failures of previous refugee relocation programs.

We need to think about and discuss how we can best help any refugees who will be relocated into the US.  Where do we place them?  What assistance do we provide?  Is it good to provide them employment opportunities or should they not be allowed to work in order to protect jobs for Americans?  How long do we allow them to stay?  How long have we allowed other refugees to stay?  What is the cost of bringing them in and how will we pay for the program?

We need to avoid making judgements based solely on race, ethnicity, and religion.  Refusing help and engaging in hateful dialogue will only make such problems worse and more widespread.  I believe we will be playing into the terrorists hands if we engage in such behavior.  Too many people in this country and throughout the world don't understand the methodology of terrorists.  Violence and fear are not the aim of the thoughtful and resourceful terrorist.  Rather the terror and violence are aimed at eliciting certain responses from various groups.  One common response that terrorists seek is an increase in hate and decrease in trust.  Much of the dialogue we are seeing today is playing into that desired response.

But again, at the same time, we cannot label caution as ill-aimed hate and fear.  

A wise response has room for humanity and patience, but it requires a good degree of transparency.  Let's develop a well-thought out assistance and relocation plan and take the time to do it right.  Let's set aside the hateful dialogue.  Let's demand that our government provide us answers and explanations for what will happen without simply lecturing us.  

Our biggest challenge is and will be the unwillingness of Americans to set aside political agendas, hate, fear, and uncertainty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Coat, the Russians, and the CIA

After almost five years in Henderson, Nevada my blood has thinned to dangerous levels.  Temperatures in the fifties tonight forced me to don a heavy coat to watch the Green Valley High School Marching Band.  It was almost embarrassing, but with everyone else wearing coats I didn’t stand out.  The coat, a heavy black wool one, I wore tonight is one of my all-time favorites.  Since I bought it about a year before we left Colorado Springs to move to Henderson, it still feels like a new coat.  I wore it for a winter in Colorado Springs and now just rare occasions when visiting Utah and Idaho or when coolish weather hits southern Nevada. 

Anyway, tonight as I put the coat on, I felt some crinkly paper in the interior pocket.  Curious about what receipt or candy wrapper I may have had in there, I unzipped it and pulled it out—a newspaper clipping from the English version of The St. Petersburg Times dated Friday, February 19, 2010.  I pulled it from a paper during my last visit to Russia.  The article that drew my interest is titled “Dispersing the CIA Myth”, by Yevgeny Bazhanov, at the time a vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.  (He is now the president of the Diplomatic Academy.)  Looking back through the haze of Maidan in Ukraine and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia, I find the article intriguing.

So, for everyone’s reading pleasure, here is the article:

It has become customary in recent decades to blame the United States for every catastrophe afflicting the planet — from tsunamis to revolutions. Before the United States, it was the Jews who were blamed for the world’s problems. In medieval Europe, for example, Jews were said to have spread the plague — and, ironically, the accusations were most virulent in those regions where Jewish people didn’t even live.

Governments have often blamed foreign elements for instigating revolutions. Opponents of the 1789 French Revolution considered it the fruit of an English and Lutheran plot, and Russian authorities considered the Decembrists to be French agents. Bolshevik leaders were thought to be agents of the German military, and Adolf Hitler viewed the Bolsheviks as part of a global Jewish plot. The capitalist West invariably implicated Moscow in national liberation movements of the 20th century, and the Kremlin was convinced that every right-wing dictator was a puppet of Uncle Sam.

But the truth is that all of these political upheavals were the result of internal forces. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many Russians thought that it was caused by the Central Intelligence Agency. No doubt, Washington did concoct various schemes during the Cold War to weaken the Soviet Union and possibly hasten its collapse — for example, drawing Moscow into an arms race by launching the “Star Wars” program and conspiring with Saudi Arabia to precipitate the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s.

But accusations that the CIA alone caused the Soviet Union to collapse are ridiculous. Why do Russians seemingly hold the CIA in such high regard? It can’t even uncover the simplest intelligence, much less cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. Take, for example, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Shah Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, a close ally of the United States, had been ruling the country, and various individuals operating as U.S. agents filled his inner circle. Nonetheless, the Islamic revolution, which had been brewing for years, came as a complete surprise to the shah and his cohorts. Then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter summarily fired the CIA chief and decided to conduct a thorough housecleaning at the agency.  

Nor did anybody in the CIA expect that the collapse of the Soviet Union would occur as soon as it did. After it happened, the U.S. Congress ordered an investigation to determine why the intelligence service did not predict the Soviet collapse, much less organize it.

The key reasons for the Soviet collapse had little to do with the United States. The reasons were internal, of course — not least among them were the perestroika reforms introduced in 1987 under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who understood that the economy had no chance of surviving without at least a modicum of democratization and economic liberalization. But those democratic reforms ultimately caused the already weak Soviet foundation to collapse. The political kettle had been boiling for years, and as soon as Gorbachev opened the lid even a tad, the country experienced a violent overflow of opposition to Soviet rule in the Baltic states and an outbreak of interethnic fighting in the Caucasus. The political explosions sharply exacerbated the country’s acute economic woes.

Things did not go well for the former Soviet republics either after they gained independence. People expected conditions to improve, but instead they witnessed the emergence of oligarchic “bandit capitalism,” which resulted in a huge gap between the few rich and the many poor. The great disappointment, disillusionment and chaos in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union paved the way for new “color revolutions” in three former Soviet republics. The West may have funded some of the opposition forces, but it is ridiculous to claim that it caused these revolutions.

The Feb. 7 Ukrainian presidential election proved that the hyped-up claims of Western subversion in its color revolution was patently false. Conservative groups in Russia love to claim that the Orange Revolution was designed in Washington and that Yushchenko’s victory allowed the United States to control Ukraine and dictate Kiev’s “anti-Russian” policy. But when Yushchenko received only 5 percent of the vote in an election declared democratic by all international monitoring groups, this was a crushing defeat not only to Yushchenko, but also to the fearmongers in Russia who claimed that Washington had completely orchestrated the Orange Revolution. On the contrary, thanks to the democratic Orange Revolution, Ukrainians were able to remove an unpopular, pro-Western president through free elections.

Yevgeny Bazhanov is vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.

(The article was also in The Moscow Times; see link above.)

Also, for an exciting recap of my last trip to Russia, please check out this post: