Who is winning? Gen. Petraeus on Ukraine war, two years in, CNN.com

By Peter Bergen, CNN

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University, and the host of the Audible podcast “In the Room,” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.


Two years into the Ukraine war, the tide has shifted, and Russian forces have some momentum, according to retired US General David Petraeus.

But he said the Russians have suffered staggering casualties and Ukraine can still hold its own in fighting off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion if it gets the support it needs from the United States.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began disastrously for Putin, marks its second anniversary this coming weekend. To get a better insight into the state of the war, I spoke to former CIA director David Petraeus, who was the commanding general during the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and is co-author with Lord Andrew Roberts of the new book “Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine.”

David Petraeus has spent decades studying warfare and practicing its application. He was the US and coalition commander of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and later served as director of the CIA.

Last weekend Gen. Petraeus was at the Munich Security Conference, the leading global national security conference that was attended by pretty much every European leader and by top American officials – including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The atmosphere at the conference was somber, happening as the shocking news of Alexey Navalny’s death emerged and in the shadow of Ukraine’s withdrawal from the key eastern city of Avdiivka, all putting into sharp focus the impassioned pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for additional military assistance.

Shortly after the conference ended, I spoke with Gen. Petraeus. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

BERGEN: At the Munich Security Conference, what was the mood like?

PETRAEUS: It was different than any Munich Security Conference I’ve ever been to in the past – and I’ve been going to these since I was a major and a speechwriter for the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe in the late 1980s.

Typically, you have the US delegation there that is pushing everyone else to do more. But this time, the Europeans had never been more serious, while there was considerable uncertainty about the American side: concerns about the US commitment to continued support for Ukraine and concerns about US willingness to continue to provide its very important leadership in the world in general.

There were heartening elements – the Europeans are stepping up, for instance, with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on stage at the conference committing to spend 2% of Germany’s GDP on defense. Keep in mind that’s the number three economy in the world now, so that’s a significant development. And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that this year 18 of 31 NATO nations will meet the 2% of GDP on defense commitment, marking a steady increase among European members.

Despite Europe very much stepping up – and the EU just before the Munich Security Conference announced an additional 50 billion euros in aid to Ukraine – the additional American support is hanging in the balance in the US Congress, and that is desperately needed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US Vice President Kamala Harris, along with members of their delegations, meet for talks at the Munich Security Conference on February 17.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US Vice President Kamala Harris, along with members of their delegations, meet for talks at the Munich Security Conference on February 17. Tobias Schwarz/Reuters
That said, many of the House members who were at the Munich conference, including some of the Republicans that are firm on defense and resistance to Russia, believe that the votes are there and that they’ll be able to get this through.

But the delay, the indecisiveness, the uncertainty certainly was something that weighed on the mood at Munich.

Putin looks at the stalled legislation in the US Congress and the seeming inability to make a decision there to support a fellow democracy that broadly shares our values and principles – however imperfectly, they do – that has been brutally invaded. And then he looks to the US presidential election in November, and he looks at some of the rhetoric in the campaign, and undoubtedly, he draws some hope from that as well.

BERGEN: Who’s winning the war in Ukraine?

PETRAEUS: I’m not sure that either side is winning the war. The Russians obviously have been achieving incremental gains, and the Russians do have the initiative right now, having just forced the Ukrainians to withdraw from Avdiivka in the southeast.

There are several other areas in which the Russians are attacking in the east and south and using massive quantities of artillery that generally destroy whatever it is that they’re trying to seize and then using human wave attacks that are extraordinarily costly in terms of casualties, yet they seem to be able to sustain that. Vladimir Putin seems unconcerned by these losses and still seems to be able to continue to generate additional recruits.

One question, of course, is: might there come a point where the Russian people, particularly Russian mothers and fathers and wives, say, ‘Not my son, not my husband anymore’? And there have been modest demonstrations to bring the boys home, although that has certainly not reached substantial quantity nor been particularly influential.

Russia also has a long history of not permitting opposition for any considerable period. Alexey Navalny just died in prison (CNN: the Kremlin has denied allegations of involvement), and a Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine earlier in the war was just found shot to death in Spain (CNN: Moscow said it had no information on the matter). It’s essentially removing any illusion that the Russian Federation is anything other than a Stalinist dictatorship.

BERGEN: Are you surprised we’re now two years into this war with no end in sight?

PETRAEUS: Well, not necessarily. While the Ukrainians did demonstrate really quite impressive combat operations in the first year of the war – winning the battles of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Kherson – once the battle lines hardened and the Russians were able to establish defenses, the counteroffensive hinged on the provision of certain weapon systems in a sufficiently timely manner that the Ukrainians would be able to deploy in large numbers. And, obviously, that did not happen.

While the US-led response to the invasion has been very impressive in many respects, there were delays in certain decisions that meant that the Ukrainians did not have US tanks in a timely manner, for example, and that decision led to German delays in approval of the German Leopard tanks. The Ukrainians also didn’t have the Western aircraft that would have provided air support for their ground forces.

The US also needs to supply Ukraine with more long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, ATACMS, which allow the Ukrainians to accurately hit distant targets in Russian-controlled territory.

So, when you take that into account, I think not a surprise. The Russians have certainly learned certain lessons after seemingly not being able to do that for the first year or more of the war. They have found a way to generate replacement personnel and additional units, and Russia has put its economy on a full-war footing, and this is where the reality enters the picture, as Russia has more than three times the population of Ukraine and an economy that’s more than 10 times the size of Ukraine’s.

If US support is forthcoming, I think you will see Ukraine able to at the very least sustain its present position, perhaps even make further progress in the one theater where there have been very impressive Ukrainian achievements – and that’s in the western Black Sea. There, through the use of anti-ship missiles, some produced in Ukraine, some provided to Ukraine, and then the use of maritime drones developed by Ukraine, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has probably sustained about 30% losses. It has largely been pushed out of the western Black Sea and has had to withdraw the bulk of its fleet from the critical port of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea, a port that it has used for a couple of centuries.

And this is a critical achievement because it’s allowing Ukraine to export its grain through the western Black Sea to countries that are very dependent on that in North Africa, including particularly Egypt.

BERGEN: Last week the Pentagon gave a background briefing to reporters, and they gave what I thought was a pretty astonishing estimate of the number of Russian forces killed or wounded: 315,000. What do you make of that?

PETRAEUS: These are just staggering losses. And yet there is a seeming lack of concern in the Kremlin because they seem to be able to continue to recruit by using substantial enlistment bonuses in rural areas. Keep in mind, of course, Putin is shielding the elite in Moscow and St. Petersburg; the burden is not falling on them. It’s falling on these young men in the much more rural areas.

Putin’s certainly in a much better position than was the case, say, a year ago, and that’s obviously concerning. But if the US can get this $60 billion package through and Ukraine makes fundamental decisions about how to increase its force generation – and that is a critical issue – and can continue to make progress with the development of both maritime and air drones, Ukraine, I think, can not only sustain its position but, in certain cases, make progress. But that’s a lot of assumptions. That’s a lot of ifs that all have to come together.

BERGEN: Ukrainian president Zelensky recently fired his army chief. Do you think that’s going to make a difference?

PETRAEUS: I don’t think that this changes the very fundamental issues that are the most significant factors that will determine the way ahead for Ukraine.

In particular, Ukraine has to come to grips with how to generate replacement forces, and it has to make a very difficult choice. The Ukrainian parliament has to make some fundamental decisions about recruiting ages, noting that the average age of a Ukrainian soldier on the front lines is not the 18-to-23 that I was privileged to lead in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s over 40. This is a result of their recruiting policies, and they’re going to have to change that. (Under Ukrainian law, men between the ages of 18 to 26 can’t be drafted, though they can volunteer).

It’s very clear that this is an emotional subject, understandably so, and it will be difficult, but it’s necessary.

BERGEN: If Ukraine loses the war, what’s next? Would Putin feel empowered to attack a NATO country, or have Russia’s losses in this war degraded its ability to invade another country?

PETRAEUS: There’s no question that Putin would not stop at Ukraine. The question is, how long would it take him to regenerate the forces for employment elsewhere? Certainly, Moldova would be in the crosshairs. There are still, after all, 1,500 or so Russian soldiers on the ground in that sliver of land, Transnistria, in Moldova.

His attention could also shift to the Baltic states as well, whose existence he also resents.

His goals all along have been to reassemble as much of the Soviet Union or perhaps the Russian Empire as he possibly can, with him at the helm as the czar.

BERGEN: What’s going on in Ukraine looks a lot like World War I, in the sense that it’s trench warfare, minefields, machine guns. Obviously, there are new techniques, like swarms of armed drones. What does this war look like to you?

PETRAEUS: There are elements of World War I here — the trenches; the belts of defensive fortifications; barbed wire; very, very deep minefields; huge quantities of artillery, especially on the Russian side. You also have the Cold War-era tanks and infantry-fighting vehicles, which is largely what you see on this battlefield.

And then, on top of all this, you have some fairly advanced drones. Some are “suicide” drones. You also have precision missiles in the air and at sea, and you have maritime drones. Electronic warfare is also much more significant. There are activities in cyberspace. There is even involvement of capabilities in outer space that enables command, control, and communications, Starlink satellite communications, of course, being one of those.

And you have the advent of the enormous transparency that comes from the ubiquitous presence of smartphones, internet access and social media platforms.

So it’s truly different from any previous context for warfare, and it gives us hints as to the future of war that Andrew Roberts and I describe in our book, “Conflict.”

BERGEN: The Biden administration and Congress have already sent around $75 billion in aid to Ukraine. Why should Americans spend more on funding the Ukrainians?

PETRAEUS: Because it’s in our fundamental national security interest. It’s in the interest of our prosperity and the rules-based international order that we and our allies and partners in the wake of World War II established, which, for all of its imperfections, generally furthered our interests and those of our allies and partners.

Other countries – Russia and its various confederates around the world – are trying to make the world safe for autocracy, not safe for democracy, and our interests and those of our NATO allies and the free world are defended now at the Ukraine-Russia border.

This is not charity. What we do around the world is not out of the goodness of our heart. It’s out of a cold calculation. It is in our national interest to do so, and that if we do not do so, conditions in the world will change in ways that will not be positive for either our national security or our national prosperity.

BERGEN: Do you take at face value former President Donald Trump’s threats to pull the US out of NATO, and what would that do to the alliance?

PETRAEUS: The United States is, at the end of the day, the keystone for NATO capabilities. Even though the NATO secretary general reports that this year 18 of 31 countries will hit the 2% of GDP spending on defense that was agreed upon a decade or so ago, still, the US military is the foundation piece for any NATO operation and for deterrence of would-be aggressors.

So NATO, in many respects, is dependent on decisions made in the Oval Office, and those recent statements were a source of concern at the Munich Security Conference. All Americans who were there were questioned at various times about that, and the fundamental character of NATO and alliance deterrence would obviously be undermined enormously if the US were not to continue to play the role that it has, while led by presidents of either party, since the founding of NATO many decades ago in the wake of World War II.

BERGEN: What do you make of the reports that Russia is developing some kind of anti-satellite weapon, possibly with some nuclear component? Wouldn’t that be pretty dangerous for every country, including the Russians potentially, since they are as dependent on satellite systems as any other country.

PETRAEUS: It would. We should note here, we don’t know whether the nuclear element here is for nuclear power, the way some of our satellites have, or if it’s an actual nuclear weapon – whether a nuclear-powered satellite with some kind of electromagnetic pulse weapon – or if it actually carries a nuclear device that could be used in an anti-satellite role.

The real challenge here is that this is enormously destabilizing, because the tens of minutes that the US has right now of warning of some kind of significant nuclear attack would be reduced quite dramatically if the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets that we have, many of them in space, were blinded and decisions had to be made immediately. “Crisis deterrence” would then be dramatically undermined.

So, it’s very dangerous, it’s very ill-advised and it’s also very provocative.

In Navalny’s death, echoes of Stalin, CNN.com

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University, and the host of the Audible podcast “In the Room,” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.


We don’t yet know the exact details of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny’s death, reported Friday by the Russian prison service — and we may never find the precise truth. But as US Vice President Kamala Harris put it in a speech at the Munich Security Conference, “Whatever story they tell, let us be clear, Russia is responsible.”

Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin practices not plausible deniability but implausible deniability when it comes to the deaths of his most prominent critics and rivals. Does anyone seriously think that the plane crash last year near Moscow of the Wagner Group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who had mounted an armed insurrection, was an accident? (The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement.)

What we do know is that Putin’s life project is to effectively recreate the KGB state, win the war in Ukraine and Make Russia Great Again. These projects are now intertwined because repression since Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost exactly two years ago has dramatically increased in Russia.

Human Rights Watch points to the “increased war censorship, imprisonment of vocal critics, and the crushing of human rights activism.”

And what better way to communicate that the Russian opposition is effectively dead, than by silencing its most prominent leader, Navalny, who is as much a well-known dissident in the West as physicist Andrei Sakharov and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were during the Soviet era.

How did Russia, under Putin, get here? One of the most important events in Putin’s life was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which was the beginning of the end of the de facto Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. When the Wall fell, Putin was a KGB officer in Dresden in what was then East Germany. The Soviet Union imploded two years later.

The context for the fall of the Wall and the implosion of the Soviet state was that Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev had been liberalizing the Soviet Union for several years with his policy of “glasnost” or “openness.” Gorbachev had also pulled Soviet troops out of Afghanistan after almost a decade of a bloody war there in 1989, a conflict that the Soviets believed was a quagmire they needed to extricate themselves from.

Putin drew two big lessons from Gorbachev’s rule: The most dangerous moment for an incompetent authoritarian regime is when it begins to liberalize (to paraphrase French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville). And the most dangerous thing a Russian leader can do is lose a war as the Romanovs did in World War I, which helped spark the Russian revolution in 1917. Gorbachev’s pulling out of Afghanistan in February 1989 signaled to Eastern Europe that the feared Soviet military was something of a paper tiger, and within nine months, the Berlin Wall fell.

Putin made a point of not attending Gorbachev’s funeral in 2022, signaling his disapproval of Gorbachev’s record and worldview.

By contrast with Gorbachev, Stalin ruled with an iron fist and was critical to the Allies winning World War II. After more than two decades of rule, the Soviet dictator died in 1953.

It appears Putin, a close student of his own brand of Russian history, as he showed during Tucker Carlson’s odd recent interview, plans to rule more the way of Stalin than the way of Gorbachev.

After all, Putin has essentially fixed the Russian constitution so he can continue seeking election as the country’s leader until 2036.

Indeed, Putin is running for re-election for president in March. Last month, an anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin also started running in the presidential election. But as his campaign gained interest, the Putin regime put an end to that just over a week ago. Now Putin will be running largely unopposed.

How will news of Navalny’s death be received in Russia? Most Russians get their news from Russian television, which is effectively now Kremlin TV. It’s likely that Russian television will be silent about Navalny’s death, choosing instead to tout the Great Leader Putin, who will surely romp to electoral victory next month, content in the knowledge that the man who was his most effective opponent is now dead.

But the international community need not remain silent. Navalny should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to communicate what this means to the world. This would require the Nobel Committee to change its rules about not making the award posthumously.

Still, it would send a powerful message to Russians and the world — just as Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize for Literature did in 1970.

How serious is Trump about pulling out of NATO? Very. CNN.com

Published 8:25 AM EST, Tue February 13, 2024
Hear what Trump said about NATO countries and Russia
01:07 – Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University, and the host of the Audible podcast “In the Room,” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

President Donald Trump’s then-defense secretary, James Mattis, said in 2017 that NATO is the “most successful and powerful military alliance in modern history.”

Yet, at a campaign rally over the weekend, Trump said he wouldn’t come to the aid of NATO members if Russia attacked them, which was the whole point of the alliance in the first place. Trump said, “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

Trump has long criticized European countries in NATO on the rationale that they purportedly don’t pay their fair share. The idea that foreign countries are freeloading off the United States plays well with his base, but Trump either doesn’t understand how NATO works or chooses not to.

In fact, all the countries in NATO pay into a common fund supporting the alliance’s day-to-day workings, and no country is in arrears on those payments.

Meanwhile, in 2014, all NATO countries agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense by this year.

Every US president since Barack Obama has pressed NATO countries to reach that expenditure level, but at the time of the agreement, only three NATO countries — the US, United Kingdom and Greece — were doing so.

Since the foreign leader often praised by Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, particularly NATO’s European members bordering Russia or Ukraine, like Estonia, Lithuania and Romania, have stepped up spending to more than 2%.

The war in Ukraine is also forcing Germany to end its long policy of spending a relatively small amount of its GDP on defense. Hours after Trump’s NATO comments, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday said his government would meet its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense this year.

European countries fear that Putin might not stop at Ukraine if he is victorious and that if a second Trump presidency were indeed to happen, it might gravely imperil NATO.

In fact, defense spending among NATO countries is growing fast. In 2017, NATO European countries and Canada spent around $270 billion on their defense, while the United States spent around $626 billion. As of 2023, European countries and Canada spent $356 billion on defense, while the US spent $743 billion, according to NATO. Of the 31 countries in NATO, 11 now meet the 2% or above expenditure target.

It’s not an accident that during NATO’s 75 years, the US became the most powerful and wealthy country in history. But that thought seems not to have occurred to Trump, who is always looking to attack countries that are supposedly ripping off the US.

Indeed, Trump has had similar beliefs about US allies for almost four decades. In 1987, Trump paid for a full-page ad in the New York Times featuring an open letter in which he claimed, “For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States…. Make Japan, Saudi Arabia, and others pay for the protection we extend as allies.” Around the same time, Trump gave a speech in New Hampshire, asserting that Japan and Saudi Arabia were “ripping us off.”

Trump interpreted the Germans’ underspending on defense as if he were a landlord collecting on overdue rent.

These attitudes continued when he was president; Trump was annoyed that while the Germans had the second largest economy in NATO, they then spent only around 1% of their GDP on defense, while the US spent around 4%. Trump interpreted the Germans’ underspending on defense as if he were a landlord collecting on overdue rent. But in NATO, each country decides how much it wants to spend on its own defense, so if a government chooses to spend less than the agreed-upon target of 2% of GDP, the United States isn’t “owed” anything.

When then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Washington on her first official visit in March 2017, Trump’s staff produced a chart showing that Germany was supposedly $600 billion in arrears. Trump waved the “invoice” at Merkel, who told Trump, “Don’t you understand this is not real?” according to an account of the meeting in a book I wrote about Trump’s foreign policy, “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.”
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Trump also seems to not care that the only time that NATO’s Article 5 was invoked, triggering the alliance’s collective self-defense, was after his hometown of New York City was attacked on 9/11, nor does he seem to care that the UK lost 455 soldiers in Afghanistan fighting on behalf of the US-led war there, while Canada lost 158 soldiers, France lost 86, and Germany lost 54.

No matter how wrong-headed it might be, according to his close advisers, Trump seems quite serious about getting out of NATO. When I spoke to Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, last summer for the podcast “In the Room with Peter Bergen,” he told me that Trump “would fundamentally reexamine the premise of NATO, which is the predicate for what I think he would do in a second Trump term, which is withdraw the United States from NATO itself.”

That would be a massive mistake. Why a newly elected Trump would choose to try to undercut such a successful alliance or even break it up is a confounding mystery.

Is Biden an out-to-lunch president? CNN.com

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and the host of the Audible podcast “In the Room” also on Apple and Spotify. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.


Special counsel Robert Hur’s report on President Joe Biden keeping classified documents at his home from the time he was vice president in the Obama administration is notable for the details of that case but also for the devastating portrait it paints of an out-to-lunch president.

A quick tour of the report, released Thursday, highlights: “Mr. Biden’s memory was significantly limited, both … in 2017, and in his interview with our office in 2023.” The report, which recommended that the president not be charged, portrays Biden as someone who comes across as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

When he talked to officials in the special counsel’s office, Biden could not remember the years when he was vice president, nor did he remember, “even within several years” when his son Beau died. The latter is fairly astonishing given how close Biden was to his son and what a wrenching pain Beau’s death in 2015 at the age of 46 was for the Biden family.

White House officials and Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer said the report made inappropriate and incorrect statements about the president’s memory, noting the interview with prosecutors took place in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attack on Israel and suggesting Biden’s attention was elsewhere. “The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events,” Bauer said in a follow-up statement to Hur.

In a press conference Thursday evening, the president slammed the special counsel for putting in the report that he did not remember the year of Beau’s death and that his “memory was significantly limited.” A seething Biden told reporters “I don’t need anyone. I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away.”

Yet the special counsel’s report hardly stands alone. Consider that during Thursday’s press conference, President Biden, right after defending his memory, mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the president of Mexico. And this week, speaking at a campaign event, the president confused French presidents François Mitterrand, who died in 1996, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president today.

On Wednesday, talking at another campaign event, Biden mixed up the German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who died in 2017, with Angela Merkel, who is still with us.

At a White House media event on Tuesday, Biden struggled to remember the name of the terrorist group Hamas and had to be prompted with the right word by a staffer.

None of this will be news to Fox News viewers who are treated to a steady diet of the president’s gaffes, memory losses and unsteady walks from place to place. And it certainly helps explain why nearly half of Democratic voters are seriously concerned about Biden’s age, according to a CNN poll released last week.

Americans have had presidents in the past who have had memory problems. Towards the end of President Ronald Reagan’s second term, he was forgetful, and in 1994, years after he left office, he disclosed that he had Alzheimer’s.

After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke, which his wife kept secret while she effectively ran the White House, but that was before TV, intrusive media and nuclear weapons.

So, do Biden’s memory lapses raise questions about whether he should have his finger on the nuclear trigger? I have no idea, since it is hard to determine his medical condition based on what we are seeing on TV and reading about his memory lapses in the special counsel’s report, but it certainly seems worrisome.

And yet, for the many Republicans, Democrats and independents who think Biden is a doddering old man, think back to the last State of the Union when Biden did a skillful end run around some of the more conservative Republicans attending by getting them to publicly assent not to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

On March 5 comes Super Tuesday, with 15 states voting for their delegates to the Republican Convention. If Trump sweeps the table on Super Tuesday, all eyes will be on Biden’s State of the Union two days later on March 7.

If Biden’s performance is as shaky as it was when he talked to the special counsel, his assertion that he is the right guy to defeat Trump will likely be greeted with considerable skepticism. But if he pulls off another State of the Union as good as his last one, Biden is back in the fight.

Hunting the Bidens

Episode 40: Hunting the Bidens
Feb 6 2024
How did Hunter Biden’s laptop, a digital chronicle of misadventures by President Joe Biden’s troubled son, become a political flashpoint and help spark potential impeachment proceedings? What personal and business secrets buried in the old computer are being weaponized against the Biden family during the 2024 campaign? Are any of them cause for concern about our government’s integrity or our national security? And how does the Hunter Biden saga stack up against corruption allegations against other White House families, including the Trumps?

51 mins

The problem with the US bombing strikes, CNN.com

by Peter Bergen, CNN

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and the host of the Audible podcast “In the Room” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.


Several media reports are echoing Biden administration talking points that the retaliatory strikes on more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria last night were designed to “send a message” following a drone attack by an Iranian-backed militia that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan.

But what exactly was the message and how is it likely to be received?

Let’s consider how these strikes have been framed. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden told reporters he had made his decision about what he was going to do, while the White House national security spokesperson said, “It’s fair for you to expect that we will respond in an appropriate fashion…” That gave any member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps living in Iraq and Syria several days’ notice to pack their bags and head elsewhere.

The Biden administration has also repeatedly said it doesn’t want to go to war with Iran. But part of establishing deterrence is not to say what you won’t do but to leave some strategic ambiguity about what you can and might do.

Given the largely unsuccessful history of such US strikes against Iranian proxy groups in the Middle East, the US’ response, along with any subsequent military action, is unlikely to deter Iranian proxies from further attacks on American targets and shipping in the region. To tamp down the possibility of a wider regional war, the US needs to focus its efforts on addressing the underlying cause of this roiling conflict: the continued war in Gaza.

Previous US strikes have failed to deter Iran and its proxies. The US has repeatedly struck Houthi targets in Yemen, but the Iranian-armed Houthis keep launching missiles at commercial shipping in the Red Sea and came close to striking a US warship on Tuesday. On Friday, US forces shot down 12 Houthis drones over the course of roughly 12 hours.

We’ve seen this time and again. In January 2020, the Trump administration ordered a drone strike that killed the most important Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, framing it as an act of deterrence against attacks on Americans in the region. Less than a week later, Iran launched ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq, causing more than 100 US soldiers to be treated for traumatic brain injuries.

A US drone strike last month, which killed the leader of an Iranian-backed militia in Baghdad had similarly undesirable knock-on effects. It gave the Iraqi government more ammunition in its negotiations with the US to call for the withdrawal of 2,500 American troops still based in Iraq — a move that would fulfill an important Iranian policy goal.

Let’s not forget that the Biden administration already made a grave mistake when it pulled all US troops out of Iran’s neighbor Afghanistan in the summer of 2021. You can imagine the high fives in Tehran when that happened.

Withdrawing from Iraq would be another failure that only serves Iran’s interests, especially since a United Nations report released this past week confirms earlier reports that the “de facto” leader of al-Qaeda, Sayf al-Adl, continues to live in Iran.

From Iran’s perspective, its efforts to replace the US as the key regional player in the Middle East seem to be going well.

What we need is a clear-eyed acknowledgement that these strikes are not furthering the US’ strategic goals of stopping Iran and its proxies from attacking American targets and allies and that Tehran is continuing to spread its considerable influence in the Middle East from Yemen in the south to Lebanon 1,500 miles to the north.

The Prussian general and military strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously observed, “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish … the kind of war on which they are embarking.”

Does the US have any real clue about the kind of conflict it is embarking on? Of course, there are no easy answers and the armchair warriors in DC who are pressing Biden to blow up targets in Iran don’t have to live with what the “day after” looks like and the knock-on effects that might lead to a wider regional conflict in the Middle East.

And while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says that the strikes in Iraq and Syria are just “the start of our response,” there isn’t much evidence based on what we’ve seen so far to suggest additional strikes will help. It’s possible that US cyber-attacks in Iran could damage key elements of Iranian military command and control structures, but these kinds of attacks can take many weeks to prepare.

The US must move quickly to address the underlying driver of the present regional conflagration that is engulfing the Middle East. That involves halting the war in Gaza, releasing the Israeli and American hostages held by Hamas, and having a plausible plan for the “day after” the guns fall silent in Gaza.

That plan cannot involve defunding UNRWA, which is the only institution that can keep Gazans fed, housed and educated, having done so for decades. UNRWA was right to launch an investigation and immediately fire 13 members of its staff who are alleged by Israel to have had some role in Hamas’ October 7 attack. But the reality is that no Arab countries are going to have the capacity or will to feed and house nearly 2 million Gazans and the idea that Israel will be able to do so as an occupying force without facing an intense local insurgency is wishful thinking of the highest order.

The Biden administration is forced to choose from a menu of difficult choices as it tries to contain the metastasizing regional conflict in the Middle East while also balancing America’s strategic objectives of helping Israel dismantle Hamas’ military wing and releasing the remaining Israeli and American hostages held in Gaza, while also containing the threats from Iran and its proxies.

Being a Spy Can Be Pretty Stressful. The CIA is Trying to Help

Narrated by: Peter L. Bergen
Jan 30 2024
Length: 43 mins


The job comes with all sorts of risks and responsibilities plus exposure to a lot of violence and trauma — whether that’s out in a war zone or in the office, where analysts may work on cases involving horrific human rights abuses. All of that can take its toll. CIA Director William Burns has acknowledged the agency needs to do more to “take care” of its officers. You’ll hear how stressful and crushing intelligence can be from former intelligence officers who did it and from the CIA’s top psychologist and the CIA’s new wellbeing chief, about what can be done about it.

American Mother with Diane Foley & Colum McCann, New America ONLINE

[ONLINE] – American Mother

In late 2021, Diane Foley sat at a table across from her son’s killer, Alexanda Kotey, a member of the ISIS group known as “The Beatles” who pleaded guilty to the kidnapping, torture, and murder of her son seven years before. Kotey was about to go serve life imprisonment and this was Diane’s chance to talk to the man who had been involved with brutally taking her son’s last breath. What would she say to his killer? What would he reveal to her? Might she even be able to summon forgiveness for him? So begins American Mother in which Diane Foley along with National Book Award-winning author Colum McCann tell her story, as the mother of American journalist Jim Foley – in search of answers, beyond justice, found through dogged, empathetic, spiritual enquiry.

Join New America’s Future Security Program as they welcome Diane Foley and Colum McCann, to discuss their new book American Mother. Diane M. Foley co-founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation in the weeks after her son was beheaded by members of ISIS in the Syrian Desert in 2014. Inspired by the life, work, and moral courage of her son, she has worked with Congress and every presidential administration since, catalyzing action, research, and policy to win freedom for all US Nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad Colum McCann has written seven novels and three collections of short stories that have been published in over forty languages. He has received some of the world’s most prestigious literary awards and honors, including the National Book Award for his novel Let the Great World Spin in 2013. The conversation will be moderated by New America Vice President and Arizona State University Professor of Practice Peter Bergen.

Join the conversation online using #AmericanMother and following @NewAmericaISP.


Diane Foley

Co-Author, American Mother

Founder, James W. Foley Legacy Foundation

Colum McCann

Co-Author, American Mother


Peter Bergen

Vice President, New America

Co-Director, Future Security

Professor of Practice, Arizona State University

Trump is wrong. This is the real terror threat in America, CNN.com

Peter Bergen
Opinion by Peter Bergen
5 minute read
Updated 6:21 PM EST, Sun January 28, 2024

‘Blame it on me’: Trump appears to boast about working to sink border bill
01:38 – Source: CNN
Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and the host of the Audible podcast “In the Room” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

Over the weekend, former President Donald Trump spoke out on his Truth Social platform about the southern border, claiming, “TERRORISTS ARE POURING IN, UNCHECKED, FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD. There is now a 100% chance that there will be MAJOR TERROR ATTACKS IN THE USA. CLOSE THE BORDER!”

Trump is already in general election mode and he knows that the southern border is a weak spot for President Joe Biden. Trump also surely recalls that conflating terrorism and immigration was a winner for him back in the 2016 presidential race — remember the “Muslim ban”? So why not go back to this electorally proven well again?

But is Trump right? Let’s take his first claim, that terrorists are pouring into the US from all over the globe. If this were true, wouldn’t that be kind of a big news story? When terrorists get arrested anywhere in the US, the media covers such stories intensively, as it did in the case of an Uzbek man sentenced to life in prison last year for his role in a terrorist attack in Manhattan that killed eight people.

Strangely, we aren’t hearing stories of terror attacks across the US by people who infiltrated the southern border. It must be the lamestream media covering up for the terrorists!

In fact, what Trump appears to be referring to are US Customs and Border Protection statistics about encounters with individuals at US borders who are on the US terrorism watch list. To be clear, being on this terrorism watchlist does not mean you are a terrorist.

According to a CBS News investigation last year, there are now some 2 million people on the terrorism watch list, which simply means that the government, for reasons that it won’t disclose, suspects someone may have some unspecified link to terrorism.

In fiscal year 2023, there were 249 encounters with people on the US terrorism watch list at the southern border by Border Patrol agents, while almost double the number of such encounters — a total of 487 — happened at the US border with Canada. Yet no one is calling to build a wall across the Canadian border because of concerns that terrorists are pouring in across America’s northern border.

Indeed, the last time a bona fide terrorist was arrested at any US land border was in 1999; Ahmed Ressam had a trunk full of explosives in his car and was heading to LAX Airport to blow up a bomb there. He was arrested at the Port Angeles, Washington, border crossing driving from Canada.

The scaremongering about terrorists pouring across the southern border also misstates where the terrorist threat in the US largely emanates from. Since 9/11, there has only been one lethal terrorist attack in the US by a foreign national with ties to a terrorist group: In 2019, a Saudi military officer who had been communicating with an al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen killed three US sailors at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. This Saudi officer had not crossed the dangerous Darien Gap in Panama and then traveled all the way across Mexico to cross the southern border; he had arrived legally in the US two years earlier.

The vast majority of terrorist attacks carried out in the US since 9/11 have been carried out by US citizens or permanent residents, none of whom had to cross the southern border because they were already in the US. Typical of this cohort is Omar Mateen, who, inspired by ISIS, killed 49 people at a Florida nightclub in 2016. Mateen, a US citizen, was born in Queens, New York.

The biggest terrorist threat in the US in recent years has not been from jihadist terrorists like Mateen but from extremist right-wing terrorists motivated by racial or ethnic hatred or anti-government sentiments, according to a US Government Accountability Office report last year. These terrorists are US citizens, not immigrants.

In 2019, in the most lethal right-wing terrorist attack in decades, a 21-year-old White man shot and killed 23 people he thought were Hispanic immigrants at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. In a manifesto the terrorist posted online, he referred to what he called a “Hispanic invasion” as his rationale for the killings, echoing Trump’s own rhetoric about an immigrant invasion coming across the southern border.

The most unsettling act of domestic terrorism in decades was the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, in which some 140 police officers were assaulted, according to the US Department of Justice. Since then, more than 1,200 people have been charged with federal crimes, ranging from relatively minor offenses like trespassing to more serious charges such as assaulting police officers. Around 900 of these people have pleaded guilty or been convicted of charges, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

The rioters at the US Capitol were among Trump’s supporters who had responded to his invitation to come to Washington, and he then directed his rally goers to march to the Capitol, knowing some of them were armed. Trump watched TV coverage of the riot passively for hours before intervening to try and stop the mayhem.

Last year, Trump said the riot he helped to instigate at the US Capitol was a “beautiful day” in a town hall with CNN when, in fact, it was one of the sorriest episodes in the history of the republic. If he is elected president again, Trump has promised to pardon a “large portion” of the rioters.

When it comes to acts of terrorism, it might behoove Trump to take a careful look in the mirror instead of misdirecting attention to the southern border.

The US is in the midst of a Middle East regional war, CNN.com

Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN
3 minute read
Published 10:09 AM EST, Mon January 29, 2024

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and the host of the Audible podcast, “In the Room,” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.


The Biden administration has a regional war on its hands in the Middle East and needs to change its strategy fast.

Three US soldiers were killed and more than 30 injured in a drone attack in Jordan this weekend, the first lethal attack on American targets in the Middle East since the October 7 assault on Israel by Hamas.

Since the war in Gaza began, Biden’s administration officials have been saying multiple versions of “we got this,” and have been working hard to contain any wider conflict.

Yet, in the past four months, we have also seen:

·Routine Houthi drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea against commercial shipping and American warships, followed by retaliatory US and UK strikes in Yemen against Houthi targets.

·Almost daily Israeli strikes against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon and almost daily Hezbollah strikes against Israeli targets.

·More than 150 drone and missile attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria, and in response, US airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

·Multiple Israeli strikes against Iran-linked Syrian targets.

·An ISIS-launched major terrorist attack in Iran.

·Pakistan strike against Iranian targets, and Iran strike against Pakistani targets.

·A full-scale war in Gaza with no end in sight, while a vocal lobby in Israel pushes for a wider war with Hezbollah after tens of thousands of Israelis fled their homes to avoid becoming targets of the Iranian proxy’s rockets.

The burgeoning regional conflict now involves 10 countries: Jordan, Iran, Israel, Syria, Pakistan, the US, the UK; Iran’s proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; and four major terrorist groups: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and ISIS.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government, which Iran heavily influences, is pushing for all remaining US troops to pull out of Iraq.

To bring some order to the region, the US government must use its vast (largely unused, at least as far as the public can see) leverage with the Israeli government to agree to a deal to initiate a ceasefire in Gaza and return the remaining Israeli and American hostages to their loved ones.

Then, the Biden administration must use all its leverage to ensure a two-state solution, which is the only way forward for peace. It must be supported both politically and financially by America’s Arab allies who have long talked a good game about supporting the Palestinians, but other than the Qataris this has almost entirely been lip service for many years now.

This will require some US diplomatic heavy lifting, but it’s worth recalling that President Jimmy Carter expended significant political capital and, through his own sheer force of will, brought Egypt and Israel to the negotiating table at Camp David after they had fought three major wars against each other to make a peace that has lasted for more than half a century.

The US should simultaneously up the price to Iran for the actions of its proxies without getting into an actual shooting war with Iran that would amplify the regional conflict further but might deter the Iranians. The US will have to decide whether to use its cyber warfare capabilities to disrupt communications between the Iranian military and their proxies.

The options to retaliate for President Biden are complicated, since he does not want to widen the conflict further. Yet, he does want to retaliate in a manner that will actually deter the Iranians.

Getting that balance right is tricky.