“We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. . . The political view is the object, war is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”
Thus observed Carl von Clausewitz in his treatise On War
Is impeachment solely about removing Donald Trump from our US presidency? In the interest of delving into this, I would like to turn the coin and consider politics as war carried out by other means, with impeachment contained in a field of battle. There are the objects to be gained, ambitions to be fulfilled, legal and emotional levers to be calculated.
Setting the stage
Suppose Ukraine were a kind of crime scene?
On the one hand, we have Pres. Trump’s team in this. Five pages of transcript of conversation between Pres. Trump and Ukraine’s Pres. Volodymyr Zelensky contain this passage:
Trump: I· heard you had a prosecutor who was very good, and he was shut down, and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that. . . Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor bf New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General [William Barr]. Rudy very much knows what’s happening. . . The former ambassador from the United States . . . was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news. . . There’s a lot of talk about [Joe] Biden’s son,. that Biden [himself] stopped the prosecution. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.
Zelensky: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you
mentioned in this issue.
On the other hand, we have Joe Biden’s team working its angle, with Burisma Holdings — among Ukraine’s largest independent natural gas companies — coming to light. Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, began working for Burisma Holdings in 2014, serving on the board of directors from April 2014 into early 2019 Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have suggested that Biden improperly pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who had at one point been investigating Burisma Holdings.
What do we have here, a simple bit of Vice President Biden influencing a cushy position for his son, or part of a geo-strategic move to undercut dependence on Russia for natural gas fuel?
The geopolitical dimension
In the very first chapter of Prisoner’s of Geography, journalist Tim Marshall lays out the existential imperatives required for the Russian Federation’s survival as a political and geographical entity, including these assessments:
Since the 1990’s, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russians have watched anxiously as NATO has crept steadily closer, incorporating countries that Russia claims it was promised would not be joining. . . By 2004, every single Warsaw Pact state [except] Russia was in NATO or the EU.
Russia as a concept dates back to the ninth century as a loose federation of East Slavic tribes known as Kievan Rus, and was based in Kiev and other towns along the Dneiper River in what is now Ukraine.With the Mongol Empire pushing expansion into Russian territory from south east . . . the fledgling Russia then relocated in and around the town of Moscow.
In the eighteenth century . . . expanding [its] empire [westward], a more secure and powerful Russia was now able to occupy Ukraine and reach the Carpathian Mountains.
The lack of a warm-water port with access to the oceans has always been Russia’s Achilles’ heel. . . Russia is at a geographical advantage, saved from being a weaker power only because of its oil and gas [which it will use as leverage in managing a protective sphere of influence].
In The Grand Chessboard — published in 1997, before 9–11, before repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking law, and before the 2008 emergency bailout of financial system — Zbignew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser for Jimmy Carter and later foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, takes stock of a new world in need of new distribution of power and security architecture, saying that with the Cold War:
The geopolitical dimension could not have been clearer: North America versus Eurasia, with the world at stake. The winner would truly dominate the globe. There was no one else to stand in the way, once victory was finally grasped. Each rival projected worldwide an ideological appeal that was infused with historical optimism, that justified for each the necessary exertions while reinforcing its conviction in inevitable victory.
With American victory over the Soviet antagonist, Brzezinski delves into the structure, content and management of past empires, including the Roman and Mongolian, with the view of locating a new way of managing a sphere of influence that is consistent with liberal democracy and free market economy.
Geopolitics has moved has moved from the regional to the global dimension, with preponderance over the entire Eurasian continent serving as the central basis for global primacy. It is on the globe’s most important play field — Eurasia- that a potential rival to America might at some point arise.
In the current global circumstances, at least five geostrategic players and five geopolitical pivots can be identified on Eurasia’s new political map. France, Germany, Russia, China and India are major and active players. . . Ukraine, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Turkey and Iran play the role of critically important geopolitical pivots.
How America manages Eurasia is critical. All of the potential political and/or economic challengers to American primacy are Eurasian. Cumulatively, Eurasia’s power vastly overshadows America’s. Eurasia is thus the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy to be played.
To put it in terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy:  to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals;  to keep tributaries pliant and protected;  to keep the barbarians from coming together.
Franco-German-Polish collaboration within the EU and NATO . . . might eventually embrace Russia and Ukraine. . . By the year 2010, Franco-German-Polish-Ukrainian political collaboration, embracing some 230 million people, could evolve into a partnership enhancing Europe’s geostrategic depth. . .Whether the above scenario emerges in a benign fashion or in the context of intensifying tensions with Russia is of great importance.
Note: a vassal is a state that has a mutual obligation to a superior state or empire, and tributary (more commonly known as puppet state, protectorate, client state, associated state or satellite state) is a state under obligation of paying tribute to a superior state or empire.
For any geostrategist captivated by this thinking, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Libya are linked together in one field of action. Likewise, past Ukrainian elections have been widely viewed in Washington’s foreign policy community as proxy wars between the U.S. and Russia. Having served as an election observer in Ukrainian presidential elections dating back to 1993, Germany’s Angela Merkel noted: “Now, it seems that a U.S. election may have been seen as a surrogate battle by those in Kiev and Moscow.”
The Kent Testimony
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent’s testimony before House Intelligence Committee brings to light how arcane studies of academics and think tanks, like Brzezinski’s here, become living forces in the doctrine and mission of our dedicated diplomatic corps:
[Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and Dr. Fiona Hill] “were born abroad before their families or they themselves personally chose to immigrate to the United States. They all made the professional choice to serve the United States as public officials, helping shape our national security policy, towards Russia in particular. Like the Brzezinskis [as in Zbignew] and Kissingers [as in Henry], the Yovanovitches and Vindmans fled Nazi and communist oppression to contribute to a stronger, more secure America.”
Kent’s narrative continues:
For the past five years, we have focused our united efforts across the Atlantic to support Ukraine in its fight for the cause of freedom, and the rebirth of a country free from Russian dominion and the warped legacy of Soviet institutions and post-Soviet behavior. . .
The United States has clear national interests at stake in Ukraine. Ukraine’s success is very much in our national interest, in the way we have defined our national interests broadly in Europe for the past 75 years. . .
Support of Ukraine’s success also fits squarely into our strategy for central and Eastern Europe since the fall of the Wall thirty years ago this past week. A Europe truly whole, free, and at peace — our strategic aim for the entirety of my foreign service career — is not possible without a Ukraine whole, free, and at peace, including Crimea and Donbas, territories currently occupied by Russia.
Looking forward, the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy makes clear the global strategic challenge now before us: great power competition with rivals such as Russia and China, and the need to compete for positive influence, without taking countries for granted.
This last phrase compete for positive influence, without taking countries for granted is to be found in The Grand Chessboard.
The Schiff and Nunes Show
For the captive audience here in the US, the House Intelligence Committee investigation under Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) presents a reality television presentation of an unsavory president fighting for political survival. Where is the geopolitical aspect? In the background. In plain sight, the grand chessboard settled in the current domestic battle is obscured.
Here’s the problem facing a citizenry wishing to exercise informed consent over our government: when do we get to directly interrogate, with uncensored documents in hand, the State Department, CIA and NSA agents employed supposedly for our benefit? Why do we have to have a Schiff and Nunes monopolize the stage production and a Washington Post and Fox News mediate the narrative?
There’s a further problem to overcome. Current political culture harbors television-fantasy views of the players, either as stalwart heroes of public service or else as villains of conspiracy. But what is the objective truth of a public servant like George Kent?
A George Kent (or Fiona Hill, or Bill Taylor) is, first of all, motivated — by some ideal and aspiration — for the profession he chose. Second, he is trained. Training cannot help but be infused with an ideological content. Third, a Kent will either be a functionary or a missionary. As a functionary, he will attempt to carry out directives to the letter, right or wrong. As a missionary, he will attempt to fulfill cherished objectives, maybe bend the rules to get to them. What’s cherished may be noble and gain public support, but that does not mean it is right and without disastrous consequences.
This formula may be applied to Justice Department operatives William Barr, John Durham and Michael Horowitz, with investigations of their own ongoing and reports pending. (In my view, let them proceed, along with the impeachment hearings. Let’s pull out all the dirty laundry for washing.)
Likewise Eric Ciaramella — a CIA analyst who worked with Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Alexandra Chalupa on Ukraine in the Obama White House, and leaked to the media allegations regarding Trump’s meeting with Russian diplomats and spread a narrative that it was President Putin who ordered Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.
But is this all to be considered in this kind of domestic battle?
Suppose I wanted to bend the rules. Should I do it directly? I would argue, it’s better to employ a free agent of some kind. With this in mind, Alexandra Chalupa caught my attention. A veteran Democratic operative, daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who maintains strong ties to the Ukrainian-American diaspora and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, who claims a network of sources in Kiev and Washington, Chalupa worked closely with Vice President Joe Biden’s team to manage our State Department’s Ukraine project.
Going back to Eric Ciaramella, I found an allegation that Adam Schiff hired two of Eric Ciaramella’s closest allies and friends at the NSC for the House Intelligence Committee, and that Schiff or associates coached Ciaramella prior to Ciaramella filing a complaint about a July 25th phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Heroes and villains?
I play with these scenarios: Trump stays in; Trump is out. In each opposing schemes, what comes into play? Where will we be heading? Who wins?
For the powerful political creatures who play the long game, I recognize that policy objectives are merely balls that get handed off and thrown wide to carry forward some larger objective. If popular consumption is required, appealing narratives can be created. However, the question foremost in my mind is: do we win? If I identify characters as villains or heroes, what traps are at work if I chase the villain with a supposed hero leading?
Sources for consumption:
The Grand Chessboard — Zbignew Brzezinski, 1997 Basic Books
Prisoners of Geography — by Tim Marshall, 2015 Scribner
Read George Kent’s full testimony in the impeachment inquiry — 11/7/19 PBS News Hour