Shadow Government

Why Did Obama Wait So Long to Go Public With Russia's Arms Treaty Violation?

President Obama formally accused Russia on Monday of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It was clearly part of the White House response to Vladimir Putin's continued meddling in Ukraine. Word that Russia may have violated the treaty a while ago by testing a new missile is distressing, of course. However, what is more distressing is that the Obama administration remained quiet about this building issue for years only to unveil it as part of a package meant to punish Russia. 

The INF treaty eliminated an entire class of nuclear ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with a range up to some 3,400 miles. It was a big deal in that it eliminated nuclear weapons expressly aimed at our European allies. It was one of the crowning achievements of U.S.-Soviet diplomacy and took a rather large bite out of both sides' nuclear stockpiles. It eliminated 2,500 nuclear missiles in total. Russia's desire to break the treaty is not new. In fact, in 2013 former Defense Minister and current presidential chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, commented about the INF, "We are fulfilling it, but it can't last forever." Yet, the administration remained quiet about information on the testing of a new nuclear missile (that, by the way, violated President Obama's own denuclearization policy goals). Since today's protest is in response to Russian bad behavior we can only assume the silence was about Russian good behavior or a desire to incentivize good behavior. 

Leave aside the fact that Russian good behavior is impossible to find, despite the reset policy pushing for acquiescence to Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the abandonment of land-based missile defense, the abandonment of U.S. allies and countless other actions falling under the rubric of President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's reset policy. The administration apparently believed that not bringing up a blatant violation of the INF treaty was an appropriate way to throw Vladimir Putin a bone or that it was that last grain of sweetener needed to please him. Even more troubling, Russia's new medium range missile would have been under development during a time when President Obama was promoting the atrocious New START Treaty. 

No wonder Putin believes he can literally get away with murder. Treaty obligations are something a country should observe regardless of its behavior. That's the whole point. Treaties are not realpolitik bargaining chits. They are what you sign to lock in the bargaining. Moreover, this administration blew into office crowing about the need for "engagement." They typically meant that we should "engage" Syria and Iran. Regardless of your opinion of how that has worked out this is a case of the president failing to "engage" a country about possible violations of a denuclearization Cold War treaty while negotiating a denuclearization treaty.

At the time, Russia's behavior -- while not good by any measure -- did not approach the behavior of terrorism-sponsoring Iran or murderous Syria. Yet, the administration proved unwilling to "engage" Russia about its legal transgressions, it's violation of President Obama's stated goal of denuclearization and the creation of a class of missile explicitly forbidden by treaty. At no point did the Obama administration show any desire to review its reset policy nor did the reset policy show any sign whatsoever of working. Keep in mind, the administration sat on this information during the entire half-year long Ukraine crisis while Russia annexed part of Ukraine. It took drunken Russian-sponsored rebels stonewalling recovery teams from accessing the crash site of a Boeing 777, which the Russian-sponsored rebels themselves blew out of the sky, before President Obama spoke up. As outrageous as that is can you blame Putin for believing he can get away with his mischief in Ukraine?

President Obama has some serious explaining to do. When did they know and why was the administration refusing to raise the INF violation with Russia? We know Rose Gottemoeller, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security raised this issue with Russia in 2013 but there appears to have been little or any follow up. Were they afraid that raising the point would anger Putin? The eventual announcement, timed as it was, sure makes it seem so. 

Secretary Clinton and President Obama showed that they were willing to do almost anything, stooping even to debase the coin of treaties and international law to please President Putin. As welcome as it is that Obama finally spoke up about the violation the country shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the administration did not swerve one inch from the reset policy while observing Russia's violations. Even though the reset policy has produced failure upon failure the administration still shows no sign of changing its assessment of Russia, a fact that certainly pleases President Putin. 

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Dozing U.S. Diplomats Let Venezuelan Narco-General Slip Away

Although a retired Venezuelan general and confidante of President Nicolás Maduro just managed to evade U.S. extradition to face drug smuggling charges, the unsealed indictment in his case reveals that U.S. prosecutors have gathered compelling evidence of widespread criminality at the highest levels of the Maduro government. Dozing U.S. diplomats let Major General Hugo Carvajal slip away this past weekend, but the fact that Caracas pulled out the stops to keep him from facing U.S. justice has exposed a regime with a very guilty conscience.

U.S. diplomats were caught off-guard on Sunday when the Netherlands decided to recognize the dubious claims of "diplomatic immunity" by Carvajal, who was being held in Aruba since his arrest last Wednesday at the request of U.S. law enforcement authorities. In court proceedings last Friday, Aruban authorities dismissed Carvajal's claims of immunity, arguing that he had never been accredited as Venezuela's consul general on the island.

After the Dutch government reversed this position after entreaties by the Venezuelan government, Aruba released Carvajal and declared him persona non grata. He returned early Sunday evening to a hero's welcome in Caracas, received by First Lady Cilia Flores.

After Carvajal's release on Sunday, Aruban and U.S. authorities told the Miami Herald and the New York Times that the Venezuelan government threatened economic reprisals and rattled sabers to prevent him from ending up in U.S. custody.

For the time being, U.S. prosecutors will have to wait for a public trial to present the damning evidence they are gathering against numerous Venezuelan officials. According to a 2013 U.S. indictment in the U.S. Southern District of Florida that was unsealed after the arrest, Carvajal "and other high-ranking Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials" helped Colombia's Cartel del Norte del Valle (NVC), which traffics "thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to countries such as Mexico," bound for the United States. The indictment alleges that Carvajal actually sold cocaine to an NVC trafficker, allowed the NVC to export drugs and import cash, helped the cartel operatives evade capture, provided information on Venezuelan law enforcement activities, and invested in cocaine shipments.

Carvajal's alleged support for the Colombian narcoguerrillas known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) is notorious. The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted him in 2008 for having "armed, abetted, and funded the FARC." Along with Carvajal, Treasury also implicated Henry Rangel Silva, former Venezuelan minister of defense and current governor of Trujillo state, and Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, former minister of interior and justice and current governor of Guárico state.

Carvajal's purported diplomatic assignment to Aruba is evidence that the Venezuelan government is systematically abetting his illegal activities. Morever, Maduro's personal involvement in agitating for Carvajal's release implicates the presidency in a brazen coverup. According to regime sources, Carvajal's real value to Maduro is the knife he wields in the bitter power struggle being waged within the ruling party.

The Carvajal affair is the second time that U.S. diplomats failed to obtain the release of a Venezuelan wanted on narcotrafficking charges involving government officials. In 2011, Colombia returned alleged cocaine smuggler Walid Makled to Venezuela rather than honor a U.S. extradition request.

It remains to be seen if U.S. diplomats who have been downplaying Venezuelan corruption for the better part of a decade will finally acknowledge that a narcostate weilds power in Caracas. U.S. diplomacy should seek to expose Venezuela's dangerous, illegal role in abetting narcotrafficking in Colombia, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, the United States and beyond. U.S. prosecutors could help in this regard by unsealing any other indictments that they have prepared against Maduro or other Venezuelan officials.

Roger Noriega former senior State Department official and Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.