Tag Archives: Russia

Trump is right on Nord Stream 2

President Trump was right to criticize Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan for a new pipeline carrying Russian natural gas to Germany. This project threatens European independence and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and it was opposed by the Obama administration and many Senate Democrats, although not much was done to stop the pipeline’s construction. Numerous European countries have also been sharply critical of Mrs. Merkel’s energy plans. Mr. Trump has correctly sought to diminish Moscow’s European energy footprint, belying claims he is a stooge of Vladimir Putin.

In 2015 the European Commission cited Russia’s politically motivated disruptions of energy exports as one of the main causes of Europe’s energy insecurity. Moscow is the largest energy exporter to Europe; Gazprom alone supplied almost 40% of Europe’s natural gas in 2017. According to World Bank data, Gazprom’s European gas prices last year were more than double the U.S. domestic price. Russia has also repeatedly used its gas to blackmail Europe, cutting off the supply in 2006, 2009 and 2014, and causing severe shortages in Eastern Europe.

Germany has sought for years to maintain a special energy relationship with Moscow as a means of securing its own energy-supply predominance in Europe. Once the Nord Steam expansion is completed, it will account for 80% of Russian gas imported to Europe, making Germany the Continent’s major gas-distribution hub.

The Nord Stream 2 project has received particularly strong support from the center-left Social Democratic Party, a key member of Mrs. Merkel’s shaky governing coalition. Gerhard Schröder, a former SPD chancellor, has served as chairman of Nord Stream 2 AG, a Gazprom-owned consortium.

Berlin signed the original Nord Stream pipeline deal with Russia during Mr. Schröder’s chancellorship in 2005. In 2017 the Russian government nominated Mr. Schröder to the board of Rosneft, the Russian oil giant. German media report that Mr. Schröder was paid some €250,000 annually at Gazprom, and is expected to be paid €300,000 to €425,000 at Rosneft. But Germans have largely shrugged at the spectacle of a former chancellor on Russia’s payroll.

Many other European countries, however, have been critical of Germany’s Russian-energy romance. Thirteen EU states vehemently oppose the Nord Stream expansion. They are concerned about the loss of transit-fee revenue from existing pipelines that run mostly through Ukraine and the security risk of Russia’s growing dominance over Europe’s gas market. They have demanded the European Commission transfer negotiating power over the pipeline from Germany to the EU.

The new pipeline would enhance Russia’s blackmail capability by enabling Moscow to cut off gas supplies to Eastern Europe without subjecting Western Europe to the same treatment. Not surprisingly, Eastern European states have taken the lead in trying to develop alternatives. In 2016 Croatia and Poland led the formation of the Three Seas Initiative, or 3SI, which united 12 states from the Baltics to the Balkans.

At a 3SI summit in Warsaw in June 2017, Mr. Trump pledged that the U.S. would bolster exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe so the Continent “can never be held hostage to a single supplier.” That statement was anchored in the administration’s broader strategy of transforming the U.S. into a pre-eminent low-cost global energy supplier.

Russia’s gas stranglehold is a source of vulnerability as well as power. Europe accounts for more than 80% of Gazprom’s exports. Energy accounts for almost half of Russia’s exports and 40% of its national budget. The implementation of a 3SI energy plan would drain Russia’s pocketbook and frustrate its geopolitical ambitions.

Moscow has recognized the challenge and done its best to block efforts to diversify European energy supplies. Russian proxies have moved to delay or stop the 3SI project. According to the Croatian media, Gasfin, a Luxembourg company acting as Gazprom’s cat’s-paw in Europe, is supporting local environmentalists opposed to construction of a new LNG terminal on Croatia’s Krk Island. Gasfin has even purchased land on the island so that it can hobble the project via legal challenges—while at the same time suggesting that Gazprom might support the Krk project if it receives only Russian gas. During Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s visit to Russia last October, Mr. Putin publicly offered a partnership to gasify Croatia.

Mr. Trump’s leadership on this issue has had tangible results. Poland has committed to buying LNG from the U.S. and has already completed a new LNG terminal. It will not renew a contract with Gazprom set to expire in 2022, ending a 74-year exclusive partnership. U.S. LNG imports to Europe rose 22% last year, and will likely keep growing.

Yet the fate of 3SI is uncertain. The Trump administration should ramp up its energy strategy in two ways. First, promote U.S. investment in all facets of 3SI projects. Second, nudge European countries to accept a long-term package of sanctions on Russian energy, patterned after Carter- and Reagan-era sanctions, including restrictions on technology transfers and financing of Russian gas production and exports. If the Europeans balk, the U.S. should impose such sanctions unilaterally.

An all-out U.S. effort to stop Nord Stream 2 would help restore credibility in the aftermath of the Helsinki summit. Over time, this strategy would reduce Moscow’s European gas exports dramatically, freeing Europe from Moscow’s blackmail. American energy exports to Europe would be reliable and fairly priced. More Americans would have jobs, trans-Atlantic ties would be stronger, and it would be a major blow to the Putin regime.

Mr. Rivkin, a constitutional litigator, served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations at the White House Counsel’s Office and the Energy and Justice departments. Mr. Zuzul is a former Croatian foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-is-right-on-nord-stream-2-1532289915

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Mueller’s Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

Now is the time to hit the Iranian regime with lower oil prices

For the sake of the Iranian people and global stability, we need to lead the effort in suppressing oil prices beyond what Tehran can bear.

Mass protests are gripping Iran as its people express their discontent with crippling poverty, governmental corruption, and Tehran’s highly expensive sponsorship of terrorist proxies around the Middle East. The protests are geographically widespread, rural and urban, and challenge the very sinews of Iran’s mullahcracy. The United States can and should support Iranian freedom by pressuring the regime at its most vulnerable point, oil revenues. This strategy should have long- and short-term components, both designed to decrease global oil prices.

Iran’s dire economic situation is at the heart of this discontent. As President Rouhani acknowledged, the government cannot meet payroll and is seeking to increase revenue and decrease expenditures. Since 80% of Iran’s budget comes from petroleum exports, the quickest and surest way to bring about regime change in Tehran is a broad campaign to reduce current global oil prices.

In order for Tehran to balance its budget, oil prices need to be around $130 per barrel, over twice what they are today. Several factors — including government-promised subsidies to wheat farmers and debt payment obligations that are headed toward default — are pushing Iran to the financial breaking point. Add to this the rising costs of Tehran’s military establishment, and the mullahs’ expanding commitment to fomenting chaos around the Arab world, and you have a recipe for financial meltdown. The doomsday scenario could only be avoided by a major rise in oil prices that would allow Iran, with 10% of proven global reserves, to rescue itself.

For the sake of the Iranian people and global stability, this cannot be allowed to happen. Washington should lead the effort. Tehran is a major American foe and a successful anti-mullahcracy effort would both improve Middle East security and enhance US global credibility.

There are four ways to suppress further the current low global oil prices. First, the ad hoc understanding between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s first and second largest oil exporters respectively, to curtail oil output would need to be suspended. This would enable the Saudis, who have the highest spare capacity of any nation, to increase exports, driving down prices. Moscow would hate losing its key Middle Eastern ally and wouldn’t countenance such a suspension, but it cannot stop the Saudis, for whom Iran is also a major adversary.

Second, the United States should continue with its long-term efforts to increase both the U.S. oil output — which it has already done by just announcing a major expansion of offshore oil drilling — and increasing U.S. capacity to export oil and petroleum products by building additional pipelines and terminal facilities. While these efforts would exert some downward pressure on prices, they would need to be supplemented by the short-term measures, that are capable of having an immediate pricing impact. The key such measure would be an agreement between the United States and a Saudi-led coalition (along with UAE and Kuwait) to increase output, bringing the price down by at least $10 per barrel. Further, because Tehran suffers from a lack of indigenous capital and technology to increase sustained production capacity and hence oil exports, this same coalition should convince the few oil companies willing to invest in Iran’s upstream industry to put their efforts on hold.

Finally, because Tehran lacks access to foreign financial markets and American banks view investing in Iran as too risky, its only hope is in European, and to a much lesser extent Asian, banks. The Trump administration should send a strong message to European and Asian banks that their access to U.S. capital markets will be endangered, if they float credits to Tehran in any form.

One might ask why Saudi Arabia, a nation that also depends heavily on oil revenues, would support a lower price. The answer is simple cost-benefit analysis. Blocking Iran’s drive for regional hegemony is the kingdom’s highest foreign policy priority. The Saudis are spending tens of billions of dollars attempting to stabilize nations such as LebanonBahrain and Palestine and fighting wars in Yemen and Syria against Iranian destabilization efforts. Not only are the Saudis eager to shrink these expenditures, but with about $500 billion in foreign reserves and one of the cheapest oil extraction costs in the world, they can withstand lower petroleum prices for years if necessary. In short, the regime change that low oil prices would bring in Iran represents a vital foreign policy boon and overall financial savings over the mid to long-term for the kingdom.

Tehran simply cannot survive a sustained $50 per barrel price. All those wishing to bring an end to the decades of widespread terror caused by this so-called Islamic Republic, and support the Iranian people in their own demands for change, should commit to the above-mentioned measures. Only the oil weapon can end this repressive regime.

David B. Rivkin Jr. served in the Departments of Justice and Energy and the White House Counsel’s Office during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations.  Nawaf E. Obaid, a visiting fellow for intelligence & defence projects at Harvard’s Belfer Center, is a former advisor to the Saudi government.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/01/07/wielding-oil-weapon-against-iran-best-way-end-its-oppressive-regime-david-rivkin-nawaf-obaid-column/1005225001/

Begging Your Pardon, Mr. President

The Trump presidency has been consumed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s efforts to uncover collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Mr. Mueller reportedly has secured one or more indictments that he will announce Monday. Some Republicans now seek a new special counsel to investigate if the Clinton Campaign “colluded” with Russians to smear Candidate Trump, along with other aspects of the Clintons’ relationship with Russia and Russian nationals. But one special counsel already is one too many.

During the 1980s and ’90s, American politics was repeatedly distorted, and lives devastated, through the appointment of independent counsels under the post-Watergate Ethics in Government Act. These constitutionally anomalous prosecutors were given unlimited time and resources to investigate officials, including President Clinton, and scandals, such as Iran-Contra. Once appointed, almost all independent counsels built little Justice Departments of their own and set out to find something—anything—to prosecute. Hardly anyone lamented the expiration of this pernicious law in 1999.
But special counsels, appointed by the attorney general and in theory subject to Justice Department oversight, haven’t proved any better in practice. Mr. Mueller’s investigation has already morphed into an open-ended inquiry. It is examining issues—like Donald Trump’s private business transactions—that are far removed from the Russian question. It also has expanded its focus beyond the original question of collusion with the Russians to whether anyone involved in the Russia investigation has committed some related offense. That is evident from investigators’ efforts to interview White House aides who were not involved in the 2016 campaign, and from leaks suggesting that Mr. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey might have “obstructed” justice.

That claim is frivolous, and it damages America’s constitutional fabric even to consider it. A president cannot obstruct justice through the exercise of his constitutional and discretionary authority over executive-branch officials like Mr. Comey. If a president can be held to account for “obstruction of justice” by ending an investigation or firing a prosecutor or law-enforcement official—an authority the constitution vests in him as chief executive—then one of the presidency’s most formidable powers is transferred from an elected, accountable official to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats and judges.

Mr. Mueller’s investigation has been widely interpreted as partisan from the start. Mr. Trump’s opponents instantaneously started talking of impeachment—never mind that a special counsel, unlike an independent counsel, has no authority to release a report to Congress or the public. Mr. Trump’s supporters count the number of Democratic donors on the special-counsel staff. The Mueller investigation is fostering tremendous bitterness among Trump voters, who see it as an effort by Washington mandarins to nullify their votes.

Mr. Trump can end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon to anyone involved in supposed collusion with Russia or Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, to anyone involved with Russian acquisition of an American uranium company during the Obama administration, and to anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller’s office. Political weaponization of criminal law should give way to a politically accountable democratic process. Nefarious Russian activities, including possible interference in U.S. elections, can and should be investigated by Congress.

Partisan bitterness will not evaporate if lawmakers take up the investigation. But at least those conducting the inquiry will be legitimate and politically accountable. And the question of whether Russia intervened in the 2016 election, and of whether it made efforts to influence U.S. policy makers in previous administrations, is first and foremost one of policy and national security, not criminal law.

The president himself would be covered by the blanket pardon we recommend, but the pardon power does not extend to impeachment. If Congress finds evidence that he was somehow involved in collusion with Russia, the House can determine whether to begin impeachment proceedings. Congress also is better equipped, as part of its oversight role, to determine whether and how the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence agencies might have been involved in the whole affair, including possible misuse of surveillance and mishandling of criminal investigations.

There is ample precedent for using the presidential pardon authority to address matters of political importance. Certainly it is what the framers expected. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 69, the pardon power was to “resemble . . . that of the king of Great Britain.” In Federalist 74, he observed that “there are often critical moments, when a well-timed offer of pardon to . . . insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquility of the commonwealth.”

Securing harmony in the body politic was President Washington’s motivation when he offered amnesty to participants in the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s, and it was President Lincoln’s motivation when he issued an amnesty during the Civil War for Confederates who would return their allegiance to the Union. Similar reasons motivated President Ford to pardon Richard Nixon, and President Carter when he offered amnesty to Vietnam-era draft evaders.

Lincoln’s proclamation of Dec. 8, 1863, is an excellent model of a broadly drafted and complete amnesty: “I . . . do proclaim, declare and make known to all persons who have directly or by implication participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is granted to them . . . upon condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath” of loyalty to the U.S. A similar pardon can be issued with respect to the Russian affair, ending the criminal investigations and leaving the business to Congress.

Permitting the criminal law again to become a regular weapon in politics is more destructive of democratic government than ham-handed efforts by a foreign power to embarrass one or more presidential candidates. It is true that Washington’s Augean stables need periodic cleaning, but it is Congress that should wield the shovels.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington. They served in the White House Counsel’s office and Justice Department in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/begging-your-pardon-mr-president-1509302308

Congress Can Respond to Putin With More Sanctions

By PAULA J. DOBRIANSKY And DAVID B. RIVKIN JR., Oct. 4, 2015 6:11 p.m. ET

From Ukraine to Syria, the Obama administration has consistently misread Russian President Vladimir Putin ’s objectives and the implications of cooperating with him. This has led to costly failures, but the administration is unlikely to change its approach. Congress need not sit idle too. By enacting new sanctions on Russia, U.S. lawmakers can send a strong signal to Moscow that its continued aggression against Ukraine and growing complicity in a genocidal war in Syria will come at a heavy price.

After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, the Obama administration and many U.S. allies imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals. But those measures clearly haven’t been effective in discouraging Mr. Putin’s quest to exert Russian power and influence.

In Ukraine, despite the supposed cease-fire effected by the Minsk Accords negotiated by Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia, Moscow-supported aggression continues in the contested east. Russian troops remain in the region, as an extensive Sept. 14 report from the Atlantic Council documents, and Reuters has reported that new Russian military bases are being built.

In Syria, Mr. Putin, under the guise of fighting Islamic State, supports the Bashar Assad regime, which has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons in slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians, mostly Sunni Muslims—making Russia complicit in, and legally accountable for, these actions. The Obama administration over the past week has hinted that it might cooperate with Russia’s anti-ISIS campaign.

The danger of association with an aggressor like Mr. Putin, who is also working with Iraq and Iran, can be seen in Russian airstrikes over the past few days directed not at ISIS but at other opponents of the Assad regime. The Obama administration’s initial seeming openness to working with Mr. Putin in Syria has already compromised the White House’s ability to hold Moscow accountable on any front, including for its aggression in Ukraine.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the president has formidable authority for conducting foreign policy, but there are several steps—practical and symbolic—that Congress can take that would demonstrate a resolve toward Russia that hasn’t been forthcoming from the Obama administration.

On the symbolic side, Congress can legislate a finding, based on ample evidence, that the Russian military has committed war crimes in Ukraine, and is aiding and abetting the Assad regime’s genocide and Iran’s terrorism-sponsoring activities. Using the congressional bully pulpit can help drive the public debate, especially during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Congress can also enact new sanctions that will have an immediate and profound effect—starting with the Russian oil-refining industry.

Despite Mr. Putin’s far-reaching strategic aspirations, Russia is punching well above its weight. The Russian economy continues to shrink, buffeted by falling oil prices and Western sanctions, and 2014 capital flight has exceeded $150 billion. Hundreds of Russian casualties in Ukraine are causing discontent, with Russian media reporting how Russian contract soldiers—in the part-volunteer, part-draftee military—are refusing to deploy to Ukraine or Syria. According to the Moscow-based independent polling organization Levada, fewer than 14% of Russians support military intervention in Syria.

Russia’s greatest vulnerability may be its refineries. While Russia is one of the world’s top energy producers, its refining facilities are antiquated, with low product quality, no spare capacity, and infrastructure in desperate need of significant investment. The refining infrastructure is so weak that Russia ran out of gasoline in 2011, precipitating shortages and substantial popular discontent. Russian media reported that the head of the majority-government-owned Rosneft oil company, Igor Sechin, sent Mr. Putin a letter on July 15 warning of a major shortfall in refined products by 2016-17 unless the refining sector gets emergency financial assistance.

Most of Russia’s approximately 50 major refineries date to the Soviet period. According to a 2014 report prepared for Russia’s parliament, the refiners also require a steady supply of Western, particularly American, equipment. Current U.S. sanctions apply only to new Russian oil and gas production projects. But an embargo—even if only a unilateral one by the U.S.—on exports of refinery pumps, compressors, control equipment and catalytic agents would cause widespread shortages of refined products, putting tremendous pressure on Russia’s civilian economy and Moscow’s ability to carry out military operations. The Putin regime would suffer major political damage.

President Obama might veto such refinery sanctions legislation because of its potentially drastic effect, but as Russia’s behavior becomes ever more outrageous, he might not be able to summon Democratic support as readily as he did for the Iranian nuclear deal. In any case, Congress would do well to make U.S. policy toward Russia a matter for serious discussion during an election year—and to remind Mr. Putin that with the Obama administration’s days dwindling, a significant course correction in U.S. foreign policy could be on the horizon.

Ms. Dobriansky is a former undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs in the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Rivkin is a constitutional lawyer who served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/congress-can-respond-to-putin-with-more-sanctions-1443996688

Russia’s actions in Ukraine clearly violate the rules of war

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

While Russia’s aggression against Ukraine tramples the United Nations charter, Moscow gets a free ride on its other transgressions of international law. Few have focused, for instance, on how Russia’s military operations in Ukraine violate the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The failure to challenge this misconduct is profoundly wrong and damages the integrity of this whole body of law.

The Geneva Conventions are a great civilizational accomplishment, tempering how wars are waged. For years, they have been transgressed by non-state actors who fight out of uniform, target civilians, take hostages and engage in torture.  But these critical legal norms are far more threatened when such conduct is embraced (in action if not word) by a sovereign state and a party to the Conventions.

The fact that Russian troops operate in Ukraine in unmarked uniforms, or pretend to be civilians, is a significant Geneva violation. States can and do use commandos who operate with stealth and concealment, as the United States did in both Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a fundamental difference, however, between using special forces in an announced armed conflict and doing so while denying that one’s military is engaged at all, as Russia has done.

Moscow is trying to avoid political and legal responsibility for its actions — and Ukraine is not the only place it is prepared to act. Latvian analyst Janis Berzins has analyzed internal Russian military documents describing Moscow’s “new way of waging war” that includes undeclared wars, undercover destabilization, attacks on civilians to create false humanitarian crisis and psy-op operations. Moscow believes this style of waging war could be particularly effective against neighboring countries with large Russian-speaking populations.

Russia’s denials ring hollow. Moscow has inserted intelligence operatives, Spetsnaz personnel and other elite troops into the region, and some of these individuals have been apprehended by Ukrainian forces. Evidence of Russia’s involvement includes the Russian body armor these forces wear and the specialized and expensive Russian weapons they carry, such as AK-74 automatic rifles and Dragunov sniper rifles.

During the most recent fighting around Slovyansk, Russia’s stronghold in eastern Ukraine, hundreds of Russian personnel and irregulars deployed mortars, heavy machine guns and antitank weapons. The National Security Agency, NATO intelligence services and the Ukrainian government have also intercepted communications indicating that senior officers from Russia’s Southern Military District control Moscow’s operations in eastern Ukraine, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry discussed in meetings last week.

Moscow-led forces have also engaged in an intimidation campaign of assassination and torture against Ukrainian civilians, among the most serious Geneva offenses. Examples include Vladimir Rybak, a local government official in the Donetsk region and a strong supporter of the Ukrainian government, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed. His body was thrown into a river on the outskirts of Slovyansk.

In another palpable violation of the Geneva Conventions, which require military operations to be waged in ways designed to minimize collateral damage to noncombatants, Russian forces have staged assaults on police stations and government buildings in ways designed to maximize civilian casualties. This was done to discredit the Ukrainian government and provide a “humanitarian” justification for further Russian intervention.

Russian forces in eastern Ukraine have seized hostages, including Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers. They have also violated the Geneva Conventions and the customary laws of war byrecruiting Ukrainian civilians and police personnel. In two regions of eastern Ukraine, Luhansk and Donetsk, about 50 percent of local police personnel have reportedly switched sides. The Ukrainian Security Service says Russian banks have been transferring funds to make daily payments to pro-Russian Ukrainians. .

While the responsibility for Russia’s actions in Ukraine begins with President Vladi­mir Putin and other Moscow leaders, the Geneva Conventions require that the Russian military be held accountable for its violations of the laws of war. The first step should be for the United States, NATO and the Ukrainian government to release all of the available information about the Russian offenses, including the names of all individuals involved. The second step should be sanctions that would prevent Russian military officers from traveling to any Western countries regardless of the purpose. No equipment sales or technology transfers to the Russian armed forces should be approved, and no Western military should buy Russian weapon systems or equipment.

Because military establishments, by their nature, value respect and esprit de corps, ostracizing Russia’s armed forces could have a significant impact on Moscow’s behavior, getting its attention in real and immediate ways. They would also underscore the strong Western commitment to upholding the laws of war in general and the Geneva Conventions in particular.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/russias-actions-in-ukraine-clearly-violate-the-geneva-conventions/2014/05/06/74c8fcde-d22f-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey are partners in the Washington office of Baker & Hostetler; they served in the Justice Department under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Obama’s nuclear strategy: less than meets the eye?

The following is a transcript from David Rivkin’s appearance as one of the panelist, “Obama’s nuclear strategy: Less than meets the eye?” at The Nixon Center on Wednesday, May 5, 2010.

“Nevertheless, the fact that the Russians are making such a big deal about the preeminent language and their dissipating loyal statement is important, I think, in informing us how they will behave in the future, relative to the treaty itself and the broader strategic relationship. For example, we can expect Moscow to continue to protest vociferously every U.S. missile defense effort–strategic, tactical–in fear, arguing that it is inconsistent with the treaty. And in fact, judging by my own practice in this area, we are going to scrub every effort we make at the government level–and even the contractor level–to be in compliance.”