United States

  • EU Lawmaker on Troubled Transatlantic Ties: ‘We Need to Have Contingency Plans in Place’

    Dutch member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake is a true-blue transatlanticist but even she is losing faith. Schaake, vice chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the United States, is also losing patience with anyone not yet sufficiently alarmed about the state of what has traditionally been a stalwart relationship.

    “Under the Trump administration, the rift in transatlantic relations is so much worse and the change is so much steeper than I could have ever imagined. So I’m very, very worried about where [it’s] going,” said Schaake.


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  • Congress Should Explain How Dark Russian Money Infiltrates Western Democracies

    This is the second in a two-part series.

     

    One should expect a heated national debate about the political implications for US President Donald J. Trump once the key findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation become public. Few will stop at that point to ask what the evidence shows about how Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was possible, and what must be done now to protect American democracy and counter continued Russian hybrid warfare.


    Open hearings in Congress can help focus public attention on those important matters of national security policy with a particular focus on the vulnerabilities that are not yet well understood. If Americans were asked to identify Russia’s lines of attack in 2016, the answers would probably include the cyber hack-and-dump operations, the disinformation campaign on social media, and possibly some classic human espionage. Less appreciated is the extent to which foreign adversaries weaponize the dark corners of the US financial system to subvert democracy.


    Some financial influence operations target specific policies rather than political outcomes. Russian oligarchs spend considerable resources trying to get their names removed from the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list, injecting foreign money into a vast complex of influence peddlers formally employed as lobbyists, lawyers, public relations consultants, private investigators, and other professional service providers. A prime example is the multifaceted campaign against the Magnitsky Act (a US law freezing the assets of Kremlin cronies who stole $230 million in tax receipts and murdered the lawyer who uncovered the scheme).

    DarkMoney

    Russian efforts to oppose the Magnitsky Act were spearheaded by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who met Trump campaign officials in Trump Tower in 2016 and who was recently indicted in a case showing her Kremlin ties. The Veselnitskaya operation used a nonprofit incorporated in Delaware to conceal its sources of funding, which turned out to flow from a Moscow family with high-level government ties which allegedly used Manhattan real estate to launder money from the Magnitsky case.


    However, the methods of financial infiltration that most directly target the heart of democracy involve deploying foreign dark money to cultivate, support, and curry favor with politicians who would advance Russian interests.


    One notable example is the loan to French politician Marine Le Pen’s party from an obscure Russian bank that had managed to get a European banking license despite its reputation for doing business with Russian organized crime and Iranian entities amid sanctions. The loan flowed through a decentralized illicit financial network involving co-opted politicians, the Russian Orthodox Church, money launderers, and a Moscow-based aircraft contractor tied to Russian military intelligence. Some of these agents are sanctioned by the US Treasury for supporting Moscow’s wars in Ukraine and Syria, using their skills, connections, and positions to enrich themselves while also aiming to impress Russian President Vladimir Putin by helping to pursue his foreign policy objectives.


    Elsewhere in Europe, Russia has allegedly provided financial support to favored political candidates, parties, or movements in Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Republika Srpska.


    In the United States, Mueller is investigating whether the history of Russian investments in properties affiliated with the Trump Organization is a case of dark foreign money interfering in American democracy.


    In addition to aiming to install friendly politicians, such financial assistance could also offer Moscow a source of blackmail since it is secret and would be politically toxic if made public. Moreover, even after the debts become publicly known (and thus less useful as blackmail per se), their unpaid status could offer Russia a direct form of financial leverage. For example, there is mounting evidence that Russians closely linked to Putin were talking to Paul Manafort in 2016 about using his position as Trump’s campaign chairman to “get whole” on his significant unpaid debts owed to the Russians.


    Congress will have to resist the temptation to focus exclusively on the political implications of these cases, as lawmakers also have a duty to raise public awareness around Russia’s hybrid warfare toolkit. For example, if Senate Republicans are hesitant about including steps to reform campaign finance in broader anti-money laundering reforms, the House should use open hearings to highlight the central role financial support plays in Russian political interference.


    Ultimately, the renewed geopolitical contest between liberal democracy and authoritarianism must be won by understanding our adversaries and taking them seriously, and then fighting back in ways that are consistent with our values. That can start with transparency and facts about the nature of the threat, as well as open debate about how to reform our financial and political systems to preserve, protect, and defend the free world against foreign dark money.


    Josh Rudolph is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Global Business and Economics Program. He formerly served at the International Monetary Fund, the National Security Council, the US Treasury, and J.P. Morgan. Follow him on Twitter @JoshRudes.


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  • Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia

    There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO,
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  • Two Years of the Trump Foreign Policy: The Good, the Bad, and the Worst

    First, the good news. Amid the daily drama and questions about US President Donald J. Trump’s actual relationship with Vladimir Putin and his Russia, pieces of a defensible Trump foreign policy have emerged over the past two years. 


    The focus on a return of great power rivalry, a theme of the administration’s national security strategy, is a solid judgment. The administration’s challenge of China’s predatory trade and other aggressive practices is a worthy and overdue objective. The Trump administration was right to move beyond the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” toward North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and replace it with a policy of maximum pressure. The president has a point when he challenges the assumptions of US military engagement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria (Obama did much the same). Whatever the explanation for the president’s obsequious approach toward Putin, the administration’s actual policy toward Putin’s aggressive Russia is, as was said of Wagner’s music, better than it sounds.


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  • President Trump: 'I Want Europe to Pay'

    [Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan] is working so hard on the military. We have a — we were taken advantage of by so many countries on our military.
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  • Financial Transparency Legislation Would Help Defend US National Security

    This is the first in a two-part series.

    On December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Congress declared war on Japan. Two weeks after al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, the CIA was on the ground in Afghanistan.

    The Russian attack on US democracy in 2016 was not deadly, but it was similarly harmful to US national security. The West, however, has still not pushed back strongly enough to stop the hybrid war Moscow continues to wage against the United States and its European allies.


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  • US Troop Drawdown from Afghanistan Needs to be Done Responsibly

    US President Donald J. Trump’s demand that the Pentagon plan for the withdrawal of 7,000 US troops from Afghanistan should not be viewed in isolation as it coincides with his decision to disengage from Syria, which, in turn, seems to have triggered the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis—viewed by many as a seasoned strategist and supporter of a nuanced approached to the US missions in Syria and Afghanistan.

    Trump’s Afghan withdrawal coincides with an ongoing effort, kicked off with the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as the US special representative in September, to end the seventeen-year-old war in Afghanistan. If not coordinated, the withdrawal of US troops could hinder Khalilzad’s efforts and bolster the Taliban’s negotiating position. This, in turn, could weaken the positions of the US and Afghan governments, including political elites in Afghanistan, domestically as well as at the regional level. 


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  • How President Trump is Breaking a Destructive Cycle in the Middle East

    Presidential decision-making is one of the world’s most difficult tasks. The late and distinguished Fred Greenstein reminded us in his classic book, The Hidden-Hand Presidency, that things in the White House are often not exactly as they appear. In President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s case, he didn’t get the proper credit for governing diligently based on a fully-formed worldview. Is it possible that, despite the constant lashing of media pundits and armchair military strategists, President Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy decisions are more enlightened than meets the eye? Is it possible that his strategy will yield more peace and stability than neoconservative military interventionism? Yes and, almost certainly, yes.


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  • Mattis Out. What Now?

    US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ departure removes the strongest Cabinet voice against dismantling the US-led post-World War II international order. Mattis’ stunning resignation letter is a historic rebuke of the policies and person who chose him two-plus years ago to lead the US armed forces.  There were disquieting trends in the Mattis Department of Defense, but there is little doubt that the outgoing secretary served the nation with distinction and was able to thwart some of US President Donald J. Trump’s worst impulses. 
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  • The End of the Great War and the American Grand Strategy in the American Century

    On December 13, 1918, Woodrow Wilson arrived in France, the first US president to leave American soil while president, aiming to make peace of a new kind at Versailles. The Allies had won the Great War, as World War I was known at the time, thanks to US power, and Wilson was trying to use military success to lock in a strategic breakthrough at the upcoming peace conference in Versailles, which was to begin the next January. Instead of a settlement which gave a province or two to the winners, Europe’s practice for centuries, Wilson—in a breathtaking combination of vision and ambition—would try to set to order a rules-based world which favored freedom, a lasting peace built on a foundation of US power, and reflected US values.


    Wilson had set out US war aims—his famous Fourteen Points—in January 1918. These challenged the imperial, balance-of-power system of the European powers (on both sides) that had started the war, and at the same time took on the revolutionary alternative which Lenin’s Bolsheviks had proclaimed. The French, British, and Italians, US allies, had fought for territorial prizes, spelled out in secret treaties between them.

    Wilson was trying to have none of that.


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