RUSSIA, UKRAINE ET AL: WHAT NEXT?

First published Turcopolier

To Moscow, Ukraine is not the problem, Washington is. Or, as Putin might put it: Tabaqui does what Shere Khan tells him to and there is no point in dealing with him, go straight to Shere Khan. That is what Moscow is trying to do with its treaty proposals.

For the same reason, Moscow is not much concerned with what the EU or NATO says; it assesses that they are Tabaquis too.

The current propaganda meme in Washington is that Russia is going to “invade Ukraine” and absorb it. It will not: Ukraine is a decaying, impoverished, de-industrialised, divided, corrupt and decaying mess; Moscow does not want to take responsibility for the package. Moscow is fully aware that while its troops will be welcomed in many parts of Ukraine they will not be in others. Indeed, in Moscow, they must be wishing that Stalin had returned Galicia to Poland rather than giving it to the Ukrainian SSR after the War and stuck Warsaw with the problem. This does not, however, rule out the eventual absorption of most of Novorossiya in ultimo.

The second delusion in Washington is that if Moscow did “invade Ukraine” it would start as far away from Kiev as possible and send tank after tank down a road so that the US-supplied PAWs could exact a heavy cost. That is absolutely not what Moscow would do as Scott Ritter explains. Moscow would use standoff weapons to obliterate Ukrainian troop positions, C3I assets, assembly areas, artillery positions, ammunition dumps, airfields, ports and the like. At its choice. It would all be over quite quickly and the Javelins would never be taken out of their boxes. But that is the extreme option as Ritter explains.

Unfortunately the Blinkens, Sullivans, Farkas’, Nulands and others who seem to be driving USA policy don’t understand any of this. They remain convinced that the US is a mighty power, that Russia is feeble and fading, that Putin’s position is shaky, that sanctions are biting, that Russia’s economy is weak and so on. And that they understand modern warfare. Everything in the past twenty years contradicts their view but they hold to it nonetheless.

Take, for example, Wendy Sherman who was the principal American negotiator in Geneva this month. Look at her biography on Wikipedia. Social worker, money raiser for Democratic Party candidates, political campaign manager, Fanny Mae, Clinton appointee to the State Department, negotiator with Iran and North Korea. Is there anything in that record to indicate any knowledge or understanding of Russia or modern war? (Or skill at negotiations for that matter?) And yet she’s the one on point. Jake Sullivan: lawyer, debate preparer, political advisor, ditto.

Perhaps there’s an American general officer who sees reality – certainly there are those who have spoken of Russia’s formidable air defence or EW capabilities; others understand how weak NATO would be in a war on Russia’s home field. But, as Colonel Lang points out, maybe not.

Overconfidence rooted on nothing is the problem. Moscow has made a proposal that is based on the undeniably true position that security is mutual. If one side threatens the other, then the threatened one will take steps to shore up its position and the threat level will rise and rise. During the Cold War both sides understood that there were limits, that threats were hazardous and that negotiating prevented worse things from happening. But Washington is lost in its delusion of everlasting superiority.

The so-called “Thucydides trap” is the name given to a condition when one power (Sparta then, USA now) fears the rising power of (Athens then, China and Russia today) and starts a war because it fears its position can only weaken. The brutal truth is that that point has already been passed: Russia+China are more powerful than the USA and its allies in every measurable matter – more steel, more food, more guns, more STEM, more bridges, more money – more everything. NATO/US would lose a conventional war – American military wargamers know this to be true.

In short, how can Moscow compel these people to see reality? This, in a word, is the problem: if they can see it, then something better is possible; if they can’t, then it’s the worse. For everybody’s sake – Washington’s too – Washington has to pay attention to Moscow’s security concerns and dial down its aggressions. Moscow has asked – demanded really – and it’s not yet clear that the attempt has failed. The negative reaction of the Tabaquis doesn’t matter – Moscow only talked to them as a matter of form – it’s Shere Khan’s answer that matters. And we haven’t had it yet.

Perhaps the aborted colour revolution in Kazakhstan was an answer from some portion of the US deep state/Borg but, if so, it was a swift and powerful demonstration of how poor an understanding of the true correlation of forces the US deep state has.

We await Washington’s final answer but the prospects are not very encouraging at the moment: the cheap threats and bragging op-eds pour out. So what is Moscow’s Plan B?

I have elsewhere listed some responses that I can imagine and others have done so too. I am thinking that Moscow has to do something pretty dramatic to shatter the complacency. I see three principal fronts.

  • The United States has not been threatened with a conventional attack on its home territory since 1814; Russia has several ways that it can do so. The problem will be to reveal the threat in a way that cannot be denied or hidden. A demonstration of Poseidon’s capabilities on some island somewhere followed by the announcement that a significant number are already deployed near US coastal cities?
  • Washington must be presented with a demonstration of Russia’s immense destructive military power that it cannot pretend away. Ukraine is the obvious field for such a demonstration. (See Ritter).
  • A world-changing diplomatic move like a formal military alliance with China with a provision that an attack on one is an attack on both. This would be a demonstration of the correlation of forces that not even the most deluded could miss. Mackinder’s Heartland plus population, plus manufacturing, plus STEM, plus resources, plus military and naval might joined in a military pact.

We shall see. The negotiations are not over and something better may come from them. Doctorow, a capable observer, gives some hope. But to get to a better result would require a pretty major change in attitude in Washington.

We can hope. The stakes are high.

SOMETHING HOPEFUL FOR THE NEW YEAR – SORT OF

The wise men of that Academy of Wisdom (aka The Atlantic Council) tell us “How to deal with the Kremlin-created crisis in Europe“. The piece is mostly codswallop, boasting, cheap threats and hot air but there is one good thing about it:

It doesn’t threaten war.

Never mind that Russia won’t “invade Ukraine” for a host of reasons which I (for one – I certainly don’t pretend to be the only person who can see the obvious) laid out in 2014: Why Russia Hasn’t and Won’t Invade Ukraine. These reasons are only stronger now because Ukraine has become more decayed, more poor, more nazi, more corrupt, more divided and more hopeless. It is a huge hostile expensive liability that Moscow doesn’t want to pay for and police. Let those who broke it, pay for it.

But these guys think “Moscow appears to be setting the stage for launching a major conventional assault on Ukraine”. The signers are the usual “Putin whisperers“; none very tightly connected to reality: the lead signer suggested that “Ukraine should invite the United States and NATO to send a fleet of armed ships to visit Mariupol.“. They’d better be pretty small ships – the Sea is very shallow. Especially near Mariupol. Another signer is the author of the ridiculous “Dragoon Ride”. Another is the expert in wrongness.

However pitiful their suggestions, one may take comfort from the fact that they do not suggest that the USA/NATO go to war with Russia if it “invades Ukraine”. The truth, of which one signer has a some dim awareness, is simple:

if USA/NATO get into a conventional war with Russia, they will lose;

if USA/NATO get into a nuclear war with Russia, everybody will lose;

therefore, there is no war solution for USA/NATO

What do they suggest? What are the “immediate steps to affect the Kremlin’s cost-benefit calculations”; “raising the costs”? Only worn-out repetition of past failures. One may be encouraged because it shows the paucity of thought among the warmongers but, at the same time, discouraged because it shows their paucity of thought. Stasis. Decay. Petrifaction. But never a reflective silence.

Here they are:

  1. “a package of major and painful sanctions”;
  2. “enhance the deterrent strength of Ukraine’s armed forces”;
  3. “NATO should act now to begin bolstering its military presence on its eastern flank”;
  4. USA/NATO should utter statements and hold consultations “to highlight the unacceptability…”;
  5. “the United States and its allies should continue to make clear their readiness for dialogue with Russia, to include concerns of NATO and other parties about Russian military and other aggressive activities”.

All that need be said about still more sanctions on Russia is that the EU is complaining to the WTO right now about the effectiveness of Russian counters to the sanctions Europe imposed on it because of past alleged sins. In a word, sanctions have made Russia stronger. Food is the most obvious example but there are plenty of others: the latest being forcing the Russian aircraft industry to home produce wings and engines for the MC-21. Past sanctions have given Russia a degree of immunity against future sanctions.

Of course these strategists of Laputa don’t miss this one: “prevent Nord Stream 2 from going into operation in the event of a Russian attack.” What they haven’t the wit to understand is that stopping Nord Stream will only cost Moscow money of which it has plenty but it will cost Germany much more. It’s a curious state of mind that threatens enemies by damaging allies. (Although George Friedman would suggest that that is precisely the point.)

The weapons they suggest are “Javelin anti-armor missiles and Q36 counter-battery radar systems as well as Stinger and other anti-aircraft missiles.” There won’t be a chance to use them – if the Ukronazis provoke a Russian reaction, it will resemble this story: “Товарищи, отойдите от своей базы подальше. У вас 10 минут“.

As to the threat of NATO bolstering its deployments to “its eastern flank”, taking the British Army as an example, cuts, not increases are the reality; as it is now, it has one fully-staffed infantry battalion. The US Army isn’t much better. Once a paper tiger, NATO is now merely a paper pussycat.

Nobody in Moscow cares any more about statements and consultations. And neither do they in Tehran and Beijing.

The withered carrot that makes up the final suggestion amounts to talk to Russia if it admits its sins. Too late: Moscow’s not in the mood.

Altogether the work of epigones.

But at least it’s not a call for war.

WE’VE SEEN THE ULTIMATUM, WHAT IS THE “OR ELSE”?

We are making it clear that we are ready to talk about changing from a military or a military-technical scenario to a political process that really will strengthen the military security… of all the countries in the OCSE, Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space. We’ve told them that if that doesn’t work out, we will create counter-threats; then it will be too late to ask us why we made such decisions and positioned such weapons systems.

Мы как раз даем понять, что мы готовы разговаривать о том, чтобы военный сценарий или военно-технический сценарий перевести в некий политический процесс, который реально укрепит военную безопасность <…> всех государств на пространстве ОБСЕ, Евроатлантики, Евразии. А если этого не получится, то мы уже обозначили им (НАТО – прим. ТАСС), тогда мы тоже перейдем в вот этот режим создания контругроз, но тогда будет поздно нас спрашивать, почему мы приняли такие решения, почему мы разместили такие системы.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko quoted by TASS

Moscow has issued an ultimatum to USA/NATO. It is this: seriously negotiate on the issues laid out here and here. Some of them are non-negotiable.

Ultimatums always have an “Or Else” clause. What is the “or else” in this case? I don’t know but I’ve been thinking and reading other peoples’ thoughts and some ideas/guesses/suppositions follow. They are the order that they occurred to me. Whether Moscow has such a list in front of it or not, it certainly has many “counter-threats” it can use.

Why now? Two possible answers, each of which may be true. US/NATO have been using “salami tactics” against Russia for years; Moscow has decided that a second Ukraine crisis in one year is one thin slice too many. Second: Moscow may judge that, in the USA’s precipitous decline, this will be the last chance that there will be sufficient central authority to form a genuine agreement; an agreement that will avoid a catastrophic war. (The so-called Thucydides Trap).

Of course I don’t know what Putin & Co will do and we do have to factor in the existence of a new international player: Putin, Xi and Partners. Xi has just made it clear that Beijing supports Moscow’s “core interests”. It is likely that any “counter-threats” will be coordinated. The Tabaquis have responded as expected but maybe (let’s hope so) Washington is taking it more seriously.

Other commentaries I think are worth reading: Martyanov, Bernhard, Saker, Doctorow. The Western media is worthless as a source of independent thinking (typical clichéfest from the BBC – bolstered by The Misquotation) but maybe the WaPo shows that the wind is starting to blow from a different quarter: “The Cold War is over. Why do we still treat Russia like the Evil Empire?

To my CSIS readers: the world is at a grave inflection point and the West had better concentrate its attention. Moscow and Beijing don’t depend on me for advice and I’m not talking to them: regard this as one of the briefing notes that I used to write. Moscow is serious and it does have real “counter-threats”.

MILITARY MEASURES

  • Moscow could publish a list of targets in NATO countries that can and will be hit by nuclear or non-nuclear standoff weapons in the event of hostilities. These would likely include headquarters, airbases, port facilities, logistics facilities, ammunition dumps, military bases, munitions factories and so on.
  • Moscow could station medium and short-range nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus. The latter requires agreement from Minsk but Belarus President Lukashenka has hinted that it will be granted. Moscow could then make it clear that they are aimed at NATO targets.
  • Moscow could station Iskanders and have lots of aircraft in the air with Kinzhals and let it be known that they are aimed at NATO targets.
  • Moscow could make a sudden strike by stand-off weapons and special forces that destroys the Azov Battalion in Eastern Ukraine. Moscow would see two advantages: 1) it would remove the principal threat to the LDNR and 2) it would change the correlation of forces in Kiev. It would also be a live demonstration of Russia’s tremendous military power.
  • Moscow could remind the West of the meaning of Soviet Marshal Ogarkov’s observation that precision weapons have, to a degree, made nuclear weapons obsolete. A prescient remark, somewhat ahead of its time 35 years ago, but realised now by Russia’s arsenal of hypersonic precision missiles.
  • The Russian Navy operates the quietest submarines in the world; Moscow could could make and publish a movie of the movements of some NATO ship as seen through the periscope.
  • I believe (suspect/guess) that the Russian Armed Forces have the capability to blind Aegis-equipped ships. Moscow could do so in public in a way that cannot be denied. Without Aegis, the US surface navy is just targets. Objection: this is a war-winning secret and should not be lightly used. Unless, of course, the Russian Armed Forces have something even more effective.
  • Russia has large and very powerful airborne forces – much stronger than the light infantry of other countries, they are capable of seizing and holding territory against all but heavy armoured attacks. And they’re being increased. Moscow could demonstrate their capability in an exercise showing a sudden seizing of key enemy facilities like a port or major airfield, inviting NATO representatives to watch from the target area.
  • The Russian Armed Forces could do some obvious targetting of the next NATO element to come close to Russia’s borders; they could aggressively ping ships and aircraft that get too close and publicise it.
  • Moscow could make a public demonstration of what Poseidons can do and show in a convincing way that they are at sea off the US coast. Ditto with Burevestnik. In short Moscow could directly threaten the US mainland with non-nuclear weapons. Something that no one has been able to do since 1814.
  • Does the Club-K Container Missile System actually exist? (If so, Moscow could give a public demonstration, if not pretend that it does). Either way, Moscow could publicly state that they will be all over the place and sell them to countries threatened by USA/NATO.

DIPLOMATIC/INTERNATIONAL MEASURES

  • Moscow could publicly transfer some key military technologies to China with licence to build them there.
  • Moscow could make a formal military treaty with China with an “Article 5” provision.
  • Moscow could make a formal military treaty with Belarus including significant stationed strike forces.
  • Moscow could station forces in Central Asian neighbours.
  • Russia and Chinese warships accompanied by long-range strike aircraft could do a “freedom of navigation” cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Moscow could recall ambassadors, reduce foreign missions, restrict movement of diplomats in Russia.
  • Moscow could ban all foreign NGOs immediately without going through the present process.
  • Moscow could recognise LDNR and sign defence treaties.
  • Moscow could work on Turkey, Hungary and other dissident EU/NATO members.
  • Moscow could give military aid to or station weapons in Western Hemisphere countries.
  • Beijing could do something in its part of the world to show its agreement and coordination with Moscow raising the threat of a two front conflict.

ECONOMIC MEASURES

  • Moscow could close airspace to civil airlines of the countries that sanction Russia.
  • Moscow could declare that Russian exports must now be paid for in Rubles, gold, Renminbi or Euros (Euros? It depends).
  • Moscow could announce that Nord Stream 2 will be abandoned if certification if delayed past a certain date. (Personally, I am amused by how many people think that shutting it down would cause more harm to Russia than to Germany: for the first it’s only money and Russia has plenty of that; for the second….)
  • Moscow could stop all sales of anything to USA (rocket motors and oil especially).
  • Moscow could announce that no more gas contracts to countries that sanction it will be made after the current ones end. This is a first step. See below.
  • As a second and more severe step, Moscow could break all contracts with countries that sanction Russia on the grounds that a state of hostility exists. That is, all oil and gas deliveries stop immediately.
  • Moscow could announce that no more gas will be shipped to or through Ukraine on the grounds that a state of hostility exists.
  • Russia and China could roll out their counter-SWIFT ASAP.

SUBVERSIVE MEASURES

  • Moscow could stir up trouble in eastern Ukraine (Novorossiya) supporting secession movements.
  • Moscow could order special forces to attack key nazi organisations throughout Ukraine.
  • Moscow could order special forces to attack military facilities throughout Ukraine.

*********************************************

But I’m sure that whatever “counter-threats” Moscow comes up with will be powerful and surprise the West. My recommendation is that USA/NATO take the ultimatums seriously.

After all, the Russian proposals really are mutually beneficial – their theme is that nobody should threaten anybody and if anybody should feel threatened, there should be serious talks to resolve the issue.

Security is mutual:

if all feel secure, then all are secure;

if one feels insecure, then none is secure.

As we now see: when Russia feels threatened by what USA/NATO do, it can threaten back. Better to live in a world in which nobody is threatening anybody and everybody feels secure.

George Kennan foresaw this a quarter of a century ago:

I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.

AMERICANS NEED A CONSPIRACY THEORY THEY CAN ALL AGREE ON

No subtlety of thought survives in the culture of unreason. Public space is populated with poseurs, cutouts, and imposters. Public discourse, with some exceptions, is much of the time not worth bothering with.

Patrick Lawrence: Obituary for Russiagate.

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

There is a conspiracy theory that the CIA put the very expression into general use to discredit alternate theories about the murder of President Kennedy. Perhaps that’s true – there is a CIA document – but the expression has been around for a long time. At any event it has become a slur to discredit political opponents. The accusation replaces rational discussion.

There have been actual conspiracies in history. There was a conspiracy to murder Caesar. And to murder Anwar Sadat. The Bolsheviks did conspire to take power and so did Guy Fawkes. Sometimes they succeeded – often surprising the conspirators – and sometimes they didn’t. Many times the conspirators thought the deed itself was all that needed to be done but Caesar was succeeded by Caesar and Sadat by his chosen successor. There are probably fewer conspiracies than people imagine but they do exist.

Conspiracy theories abound in the USA today. But, it should be made clear from the outset of this discussion that there are two different kinds of conspiracy theories – unacceptable ones and acceptable ones. An example of the first kind is the assertion that Trump was cheated of victory by vote-faking in key areas. The assertion is “baseless”, pushed by the “far-right-wing” and the “deluded“; has been “debunked” in detail; its so-called arguments are “bogus, none credible“; there is “no evidence” and so on. The full weight of the corporate media stands against this idea and it flourishes only in the undergrowth. Nonetheless, 29% of Americans in a March survey “completely” or “mostly” agreed that the election had been stolen from Trump (66% of Republicans, 27% of independents and 4% (!) of Democrats). So that particular conspiracy theory has significant support.

Other conspiracy theories are respectable: for example the one that the Russians got Trump elected in the first place. Loudly trumpeted by the corporate media for the entirety of his term, the indictment of a principal source of the famous dossier ought to have killed it. But no: to the believers the revelation that a key foundation of the conspiracy theory was a made-up and paid-for fraud makes no difference – “Even if every single word in the Steele dossier was wrong, that would not change the fact that the Russians sought to manipulate the US election“; “it wasn’t a hoax“; the fact that it was a fake was further proof that it was Kremlin-managed.

And so the American population is divided between those who think that Putin won the 2016 US presidential election and those who think Trump won the 2020 election. There is no common ground.

A lot has been written about conspiracy theories, the how and why of them – here’s one and there’s plenty more. But something that is seldom mentioned in these discussions is falsifiability. As Karl Popper argued, a real theory must be capable of being proved false. There must be some imaginable empirical datum that would disprove it. Sometimes, as with the addition of the Lorentz transformations to Newtonian/Galilean transformations, an old theory is proven to be accurate but incomplete. Sometimes an old theory is completely disproven as the aether theory was by the Michelson-Morley experiment. But all real theories are falsifiable. A scientific theory, in short, is true until someone proves that it isn’t. As Richard Feynman said: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”. And, as another great physicist observed, these changes are not necessarily accomplished by rational argument: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents… but rather because its opponents eventually die.”

This principle can also be applied to conspiracy theories. For example, if it could be established that Dominion voting machines can not be connected to the Internet, that fact would be a fatal blow to one of the pillars of the Trump won story. Likewise, if it could be established that a fundamental source of the Dossier was a fake then a pillar of the Putin elected Trump story falls. A theory that cannot be falsified is nonsense. Likewise a theory whose believers will never accept any contrary evidence is nonsense. Q-Anon rolls on for years promising the Complete Revelation every tomorrow and the one after that; the Russiagate conspiracy theory rolls on mutating as required. The more contrary evidence, the more tightly believers cling to them. Actual conspiracy theories therefore are not falsifiable because they’re all conspiracy and no theory.

If they are falsifiable, therefore, “conspiracy theories” are theories; no modifier. The examples in the article cited above – Pizzagate, Q-Anon, Obama’s place of birth and Soros – all happen to be theories that violate conventional wisdom and therefore are tossed into the conspiracy theory bin by the conventionally-inclined. Typically, the author makes no mention of a conspiracy theory that occupied far more space and effort and had much greater effect on the real world than any of these. And that’s because Trumputin was conventional wisdom, pushed every day by the corporate media, and the others weren’t. Trumputin was said to have “a mountain of evidence” and “proof“; the others were dismissed without consideration.

In short, rather than using the useless expletive “conspiracy theory”, it would be more accurate to say that theories that run counter to conventional wisdom abound in the United States today. Some of them – Q-Anon – fail the test of falsifiability, others do not. Some have received enough attention to make them more or less probable, others have not. In this respect, it is appropriate to look at what Americans think of their mass media. To an older generation “I read it in the paper” meant something but a Gallup poll in October tells us that it doesn’t mean much today. Only 7% of US adults surveyed had a “great deal” of “trust and confidence” and 29% “a fair amount”; the “trusters” were outnumbered by the 29% who had “none at all” and 34% “not very much”; in 1997 the trusters were 53%. Does anyone expect that decline to reverse? Another poll says the USA ranks last in media trust of 86 countries. One more shows a major political division. No one should be surprised – the mainstream media was full of one conspiracy theory and ignored the other.

COVID-19 is another revelation that there are two separate islands of opinion. Take, for example, the simple factual question – yes or no – did Dr Fauci’s organisation fund gain-of-function experiments in the Wuhan laboratory? A rather important matter, one would think. Snopes, that reliable defender of the status quo, says “unproven” in May in a long-winded piece. Denied by Fauci in May: The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” Two Pinocchios said the WaPo. But finally admitted in October: “a top official at the National Institutes of Health has conceded that contrary to the repeated assertions of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIH did indeed fund highly dangerous gain-of-function research on bat-borne coronaviruses in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” And more: “The annual report described the group’s work from June 2017 to May 2018, which involved creating new viruses using different parts of existing bat coronaviruses and inserting them into humanized mice in a lab in Wuhan, China. The work was overseen by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is headed by Anthony Fauci.” And so May’s conspiracy theory became October’s fact.

Did the virus leak from these US-funded experiments? No one knows but it cannot be ruled out. As to Dr Fauci himself, he may have overreached by telling his critics that he represents science; when even the WaPo carries a piece entitled “Fauci Can’t Use Science to Excuse His Missteps” perhaps his best-before date is nearing. Despite the prayer candles. In this respect, the fate of Robert Kennedy’s book, The Real Dr Fauci, is indicative; it’s Number One on Amazon with 96% five-star ratings. This is the more remarkable because of the full-scale attack on him from the establishment media: he is “the dumbest Kennedy“; “race-baiting ‘documentary’ and disinformation to advance bogus theories and seed anti-vaccine sentiment“; “documented history of promoting debunked theories about vaccines“; banned on social media. Tucker Carlson, in “a new escalation of his anti-science rhetoric”, had an interview “with longtime anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.” Nonetheless, a lot of people are buying and reading it. These media campaigns don’t work as well as they used to. Indeed the 29% who had no trust at all probably believe the reverse of what the conventional media says. I know I do: if they’re all shouting the sane thing, I take it as a powerful indicator that the opposite is true. We should read Western media the way the Soviets read theirs.

However, there are unrelenting attempts to create conspiracy theories that all Americans can agree on. For years we have had the conspiracy theory that Putin is behind everything bad; in its current manifestation he’s about to invade Ukraine (or as the US Defense Secretary put it: “an incursion by the Soviet Union into the Ukraine“). Another fast-growing set of conspiracy theories focus on China, the “Wuhan lab leak” being one example. (Dangerous that because of Fauci’s funding of GoF research in Wuhan). China is about to invade Taiwan or starving Uyghers are forced to stuff themselves with pork or tennis players are disappeared; these conspiracy theories are safer. One of the principal pushers of the first conspiracy theory is switching to the other: he senses the change in the party line. And there’s always North Korea where the rats eat the babies and the babies eat the rats.

The China conspiracy theory seems to be working – a survey by the Reagan Foundation found that 52% saw China as the “greatest threat” to the USA (Russia well behind at 14% and North Korea just behind it at 12%). Three years ago Russia was 30% to China’s 21%. More striking is that China has gained twenty points since February. Can the Putin-won-2016/Trump-won-2020 divide be bridged by a Chinadunnit conspiracy theory?

But agreeing on a common enemy is one thing, the internal divisions are something else. In this respect the Reagan Foundation survey cited above is indicative. It finds that disbelief is spreading rapidly in the American population: trust in all institutions is dropping; confidence in the US military is dropping; support for active global leadership is dropping. A survey just now shows a slight majority of American youth regarding their democracy as in trouble. Not the strongest foundation for more foreign adventures.

A deeply divided country: there is no common conversation in the United States today – one person’s conspiracy theory is another’s truth.

CSIS COMES TO CALL

About 1000 Tuesday morning (14 December 2021) a ring on the doorbell. A man with ID from CSIS told my wife he wanted to speak with me. When I went outside he said he had some questions about Strategic Culture Foundation. Many of my fellow contributors in the USA have been hassled by the – as they used to call them in the USSR – Organs; then the US government imposed heavy penalities if they continue to write for it because it decided it was a Russian intelligence front (without any evidence – but who needs that these days?) So I was quite testy. No freedom of speech any more? No, no, he said, nothing like that, just want to ask a few questions.

The questions were these:

  1. Has SCF ever suggested I write something in a certain way? I told him they had three times asked me to write on a subject – “Real Crickets, Fake News” and “The Abyss of Disinformation Gazes Into Its Creators” – but the third time I said I wasn’t interested. In the two cases I had written what I wanted to and they had changed nothing.
  2. Had they ever changed or re-written anything I’d given them? No I said. Not even corrected typos. And, I said the moment they do, I will stop writing for them – I am an independent operator. He knew I’d quit an outlet before that so I guess he’s read this.

When I was working I was a member of an interdepartmental intelligence committee on Russia for about ten years. This gave me acquaintance with the various Canadian intelligence organisations that dealt with Russia. I was profoundly unimpressed by CSIS. Did they, I asked him, still do “scanning”? Not familiar with that he said – well, I replied, some extremely dull CSIS guy used to bore us stupid with the CSIS scanning program without ever telling us exactly what it was. We eventually decided that it must have been a newspaper clipping service. He hadn’t heard about the person who was fired for faking his credentials whom CSIS then hired. Another CSIS guy was just so tremblingly excited about the CSIS building (a pretty snazzy one – most of us were in office plankton cubes) – he, as I recall, had little to contribute to our discussions except a knowing sneer. Not an impressive organisation at all and to think, I said, that it was wasting its time on me. Surely they had better things to do. Like the Canadian possibilities of this, maybe?

He of course believed that there was such a thing as Russian disinformation – should have challenged him to give a few examples. Although I did ask him if he believed the Steele Dossier, speaking of what US intelligence had passed off as true. Mumble mumble he answered (I think he realised that that wasn’t exactly a great starting horse any more.).

Just an informal, private discussion, no hard feelings, said he. No intimidation. Did I have any idea who ran Strategic Culture Foundation? I did not but didn’t think it was the Russian government – not smart enough, I told him: they still think RT is all they need to do. Some of the writers I’d spoken to had speculated that it might be funded by some Russian plutocrat (this guy?) who was sick and tired of all the dangerous BS pumped out about Russia. Crap that was in danger of getting us into a war. But, as I said here (and he showed that he had read it)

Strategic Culture Foundation hasn’t created something that didn’t exist before, it’s collected something that already existed. What do we writers have in common? Well, Dear Reader, look around you. Certainly we question The Truth. Or maybe SCF is a place where people “baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election” can find something else? Or maybe it’s part of Madison’s “general intercourse of sentiments“?

I said the Americans were dumb enough to think Strategic Culture Foundation was funded by the GRU which, I emphasised, was and always had been a 100% military intelligence organisation. He thought they’d said SVR (the Russian foreign intelligence organisation). (I checked – he was correct, they do say SVR – it was the GRU they claimed had been behind the Steele Dossier or the whatever-it-was in St Petersburg during Russiagate. I’ve forgotten the details – Trumputin was such a Gish gallop of rubbish that it’s hard to remember what was taken as absolutely true one day and forgotten the next).

I reiterated several times that I wrote what I felt like, when I felt like it, and so far they’ve published everything I’ve sent them. They can refuse something, but the moment they change what I’ve written, I quit.

So when I’d vented enough, he went away saying I could call whenever I wanted – we’re in the book – and wishing me a good day.

So, fellow Canadians who dare to write for Strategic Culture Foundation or similar crimethink publications, the day is coming when you’ll get a visit from our guardians from MiniTru too. And, eventually, our independent Canada will independently do what it’s told to and impose heavy penalties on us for crimethink.

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Who does run Strategic Culture Foundation? They pay the writers so somebody is putting money into it. I don’t know. I asked once and was told “a foundation”; which didn’t tell me much. I doubt it’s the Russian government – I can’t see it thinking that it’s cost-effective to pay for another miscellaneous opinion website. And, as I told him, it seems to think RT is worth the investment. (As for me, I can’t figure out what the point of RT is.) I bet on the plutocrat theory. Here’s some of the usual speculation – somebody who’s associated with somebody who knows somebody. Whatever: they’re all Russians so they’re all connected somehow. If you check, you’ll find that most of its stable of writers have been writing exactly the same stuff for years in other places. As I said above – SCF has just gathered them, it hasn’t created them. It publishes a pretty wide range – some things I read, other things I don’t bother to; like every other site, it varies in quality. I don’t much care who’s behind it: I write what I’ve always written and they (and other outlets) publish it. They change something or dictate something, or if I think the quality is slipping, I’ll take my business elsewhere; I’ve done it before.

Once again I observe that in the Cold War, they spent a lot of money and effort trying to stop their population from getting alternate opinions. Today we do. Pretty easy deduction about which side is confident that truth and reality supports it, isn’t it?

Why do we do it in a Russian outlet and not in a home outlet? Why don’t the NYT or Globe and Mail snap us up? We write lots and we’re cheaper than their usual scribes. Oh, I know, Russian disinformation. We didn’t puff the Steele Dossier; we wonder why novichok on the doorknob means that the roof has to be replaced; we don’t understand how Russia keeps invading Ukraine but can never get past Donetsk Airport; we ask why, if Moscow really wanted to interfere in the US election it fired a weak gun too late to make any difference. Writers for those outlets swallow everything whole. So, I guess, we who write for SCF do have a certain commonality of viewpoint; but that’s not because those sinister Russians make us do so, it’s because we did before it and will after it goes. And, what I wrote in the government was much the same as what I write now.

My point of view hasn’t changed since then – and here’s how I got here. A war with Russia won’t be fun for anyone and that’s where the mono-view of the Western media is taking us.

So, yeah, I am a loyal subject of Her Majesty – I don’t want her realm of Canada to be obliterated in a war we got into because we only heard one side of the story. So I contribute my moiety to the other side.

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I mentioned a couple of things to him and he said he hadn’t heard of them. Given that he will probably be reading this, here they are.

RCMP entrapment thrown out of court in BC

Piece in Reuters about the power of neo nazis in Ukraine.

Piece in Christian Science Monitor ditto.

A Canadian’s experience training the AZOV Battalion to NATO standards

MACKINDERGARTEN LESSON

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

In 1904, the British geographer, Halford Mackinder, read a paper named “The Geographical Pivot of History” at the Royal Geographical Society. In the paper he advanced a hypothesis on the influence of geographic reality on world power relationships. This is sometimes regarded as the founding moment of the study of geopolitics. Looking at the whole planet, he spoke of the “heartland” – the great landmass of Eurasia – and the Islands – the large islands of the Americas and Australia and the small islands of the United Kingdom and Japan. (Parenthetically, he does not seem to have much concerned himself with Africa or South America.) For most of history, Europe was an isolated and not very important appendage of this great world mass, subject to continual raids from the nomads of the Heartland, and the outer islands played no part in world events.

All this changed about five centuries ago when what he called the “Columbian Age” began. That is to say, the time when Europe discovered sea power. This gave the Islands a great dominance over the Heartland. In 1905, however, he saw the situation changing with the construction of railways which could connect the Heartland. In 1919 he produced his famous “triad”:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland.

Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island.

Who rules the World Island commands the world.

His fear then was Germany+East Europe=world dominance. But the triad was not intended to be true for all time – he would not agree thirty years later that the USSR’s rule over East Europe plus the World Island meant rule over the world; Mackinder adapted his theory to the realities as he saw them. And, after the Second World War, he believed that the Islands (USA+UK+allies) could control the Rimlands and therefore lock out the Heartland (USSR). The “Rimlands” were an later addendum to his 1904 theory: these were the territories subject to influence by sea power; that is the edges of the Heartland.

His theory has been in and out of favour – because it was taken up by some nazis (Germany must conquer the Heartland to gain world dominance) geopolitics became tainted for a time. Some think that it’s a textbook – Washington must maintain naval superiority; the Middle East is a key area of conflict because the Heartland can break the Rimlands in half there; Russia lusts after a warm water port and so on. This is an overstatement: Mackinder believed that he had elucidated an important driving factor in world power relationships – not some deterministic law but a important principle.

And so he had. We take it for granted today, familiar as we all are with world maps and world globes, but the discovery of The Ocean was a hugely important event in world power relationships. By “The Ocean” I do not mean the trivial observation that, eventually, all land ends at the water’s edge, but the understanding that the water is all connected. Here is an interesting projection of the world map as seen from the perspective of fishes – the Spilhaus Projection. It’s all blue except for bits around the edges and the blue continues, round and round, through the Bering Strait. This connectedness was not obvious until about 500 years ago when Spanish and Portuguese navigators made it so. A good illustration of the connectedness of The Ocean is the career of the British Admiral Nelson: his career in the Royal Navy took him to the Caribbean, the Arctic, India, the North American Station, the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas and the Atlantic Ocean. All of them equally reachable from the principal base at Portsmouth. This was the great world-shattering discovery that made Europe ruler of the world – once you put out to sea, you can go anywhere. Or at least to anywhere in the Rimlands where most people live. With that discovery – and the accompanying technology – Europe ceased to be a minor isolated appendage at the edge of the world; it was able to surround the Heartland. And so we have the tremendous dominance of Europe over the world for the last five centuries. (Not just mastery of the Ocean of course: Europe’s greater killing skill and its ever-attending diseases were powerful aids to conquest too.)

There is a great weakness to the Heartland’s power. Mackinder began his 1904 paper by listing the difficulties with the Heartland. Its rivers flow the wrong way – either into the inaccessible Arctic or into internal lakes like the Caspian or Aral Seas. There are too many deserts and too many mountains. There isn’t enough rainfall. Much of its territory is too cold, too far north and too forested. Distances – from the perspective of muscle-powered transport – are immense. The Heartland is simply not hospitable and therefore, will never have much of a population. The Rimlands, on the other hand, are much more populated and always will be. In short, the Heartland can never have the population to dominate the Rimlands and, without sea power, it can’t get to the Islands. Perhaps the closest that the the Heartland peoples came to conquering the world was when Temujin unified the Mongols. But there, as history has many times shown, when the horse people arrive in the cities, the cities win in the end; only in the Russian lands did the khanates linger for much longer than three generations. Therefore – and it seems that Mackinder came to realise this – the Heartland is less of an actor in geopolitics than a subject: it is valuable if possessed by, say, Germany, or if its controlling power can break through and gather some of the Rimlands.

Mackinder’s theories are considered to have influenced Zbigniew Brzezinski who saw it as very important for Washington to control “continental bridgeheads” in the Rimlands. For example Afghanistan and the Middle East. (Mackinder saw the Isthmus of Suez as key position – “the weakest spot in the girdle of early civilisations”). From the perspective of 2021, enough said – the USA has received no benefit at all from its fiddling around in these areas. Indeed, when the history of the end of the Imperium Americanum is written, these two areas will occupy many pages of text: utter failure. On paper Afghanistan may look like a “bridgehead” but it is, in fact, impenetrable to outsiders. And the Middle East has too many people who are, as Putin put it: “more cunning, clever and strong than you, and if you play these games with them, you will always lose”. Some bridgeheads are best left to theory.

But time marches on. Mackinder in 1904 was very impressed by the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway (then with a spur through Manchuria; the all-Russian route was only finished in 1916) and predicted

the century will not be old before all Asia is covered with railways… it is inevitable that a vast economic world, more or less apart, will there develop inaccessible to oceanic commerce.

The curse of the Heartland had always been the immense difficulty and slowness of movement – sea movement was always faster and easier – but railways could change all that and he saw this first trans-Heartland railway as a world-changing event. Today the line is double-tracked and electrified and its capacity is continually increasing. In fact, today it is theoretically possible to take passenger trains from Yakutsk – about as deep in the Heartland as one can imagine – to London and then a taxi to the Royal Geographical Society and contemplate a copy of Mackinder’s original paper.

As it happens, his prediction has come true, although not as soon as he expected. But it’s not Russia that’s building trains through the Heartland today: this video of high speed railway construction by country over time says it all. China first appears in March 2003; has the most rail in March 2009 and, when the video ends in December 2019, has well over half the world’s total. And it shows no signs of stopping – high speed railways are a vital component of its Belt and Road initiative and Laos was just connected. And China has just produced a 600 kph prototype maglev train, already having a 400 kph one in service.

And now, a century and a quarter later, we come to something that I’m sure Mackinder never envisaged and that is the Heartland plus population. Russia plus China: millions of well-educated, well-situated people, lots of science and technology, an enormous percentage of the world’s manufacturing capacity together with all the natural resources one could want. The Heartland plus population plus manufacturing plus resources. There’s still more: the Islands have relied on their sea power for centuries but Russia has a large and competent navy and China now has more ships than the US Navy (and probably more than all of NATO too).

What a shame Zbigniew Brzezinski isn’t alive to enjoy the fruits of his efforts! In The Grand Chessboard he warned that the greatest danger to continued America primacy would be a Russia-China alliance. He was (idiotically?) confident that US diplomacy could prevent that from happening. Quite the contrary – the arrogance of his “New American Century” followers have driven Moscow and Beijing together.

The Heartland plus population plus production plus sea power: that’s the end of the “Columbian Age”.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

Answer to question from Sputnik on significance of Sullivan-Patrushev phonecall

None of these questions can be answered until we have an idea who’s in charge in Washington. For example: are Russian troops massing at the Ukraine border — the State Dept says they are, the Pentagon says they aren’t. Is Taiwan part of China or isn’t it? Are they trying to have predictable and stable relations with Russia or are they provoking Russia by arming Ukraine and sending ships and aircraft near Russia? Are they trying to return to the JCPOA, or destroy it for all time? 

Meetings with Russia, China and Iran consist of the usual demands and accusations combined with more-or-less pathetic requests to release oil supplies or do something on global warming (immediately spoiled by boasting that we showed up and they didn’t.) 

What we see, to quote Churchill, are bulldogs fighting under a rug as the USA declines further into stasis.  

As to Sullivan himself, he’s too deeply involved in the Russiagate nonsense to be credible.

COLOUR REVOLUTIONS FADE AWAY

First published Strategic Culture Foundation, in Spanish, picked up by What Really Happened,

Probably the first US-plotted “colour revolution” was the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. The Hawaiian Islands had been united in the early 1800s and were internationally recognised as an independent country, but the native Polynesians had been outnumbered by outsiders who had acquired a good deal of the land and devoted it to growing sugar. The USA was the principal market for the sugar but, when domestic sugar producers prevailed upon Washington to impose a tariff, the producers in Hawaii saw their wealth threatened. The coup overthrew the Queen, proclaimed a republic and a few years later Hawaii became a US territory and the sugar market was saved. None of this was overtly stated in justification, of course: the coup, like later “colour revolutions”, was carried out for more highfalutin reasons than mere greed. A threat was “discovered”, “public safety is menaced, lives and property are in peril”, a committee of safety formed, simulated mass meetings were held. Conveniently a US Navy ship was in harbour and troops came ashore “to secure the safety” etc etc. The Navy’s presence was not a coincidence because the US President and Secretary of State were in agreement with the conspiracy and the US diplomatic representative, while pretending neutrality, was an active participant. All done quickly and the coup leaders proclaimed themselves to be the new provisional government. Wholly and obviously fake – there was no disorder at all and the “committee of public safety” was made up of sugar barons and their flunkeys – but it stands as a historically significant event because it was the first crude attempt at something to be perfected in later years.

A Congressional report in 1894 decided that everything was perfectly perfect but a century later the US Congress passed the “apology resolution” for the coup. Who can say that the Rules-Based International Order is not real after that? Has Putin or Xi ever apologised for anything he didn’t apologise for earlier?

The most recent successful “colour revolution” occurred in Ukraine in 2013-2014. Enter the “Non-Government” Organisations – the non-government part is a lie but they are certainly well organised; they prepare the way. Victoria Nuland, then Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, admitted to spending five billion dollars to “ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine”: an enormous sum for a poor country. (One learns here what has changed since the Hawaiian “colour revolution” 120 years before: 1) the rhetoric is more syrupy 2) it costs more.) She was the John Stevens of the Ukrainian “colour revolution” – sent by the US State Department to hand out the money, make the decisions and direct the performance. And, as the phone intercept proves, to block others from involvement – “fuck the EU”.) I recommend taking the time to listen to some of Nuland’s speech here to see just how sugary the cover talk for these “colour revolutions” has become – democracy, human rights, freedom, reforms, Europe; the caravan of “Western values” is chained to the juggernaut of greed and power. None of these formerly estimable values are visible in today’s Ukraine; but the interests of Ukrainians (or Hawaiians) were never the point of “colour revolutions”: the sugar barons wanted to keep their entry into the US market, Washington wanted to make trouble for Russia and the US Navy wanted a base in Crimea.

But the day of “colour revolution” seems to be running out. The mechanics are noticed and countered. Observe, for example, the moment in this video of a protest in Sevastopol when the commenter – who had seen it before on the Maidan – points out the carefully spaced people, wearing red so they can recognise each other, directing the supposedly genuine and spontaneous protest. The organisers were trying to make the Crimean Tatar issue a fighting cause. (I wonder, by the way, how many consumers of the Western “news” media think the Tatars are autochthonous?) I well remember this documentary because it was the first time I saw the people on the receiving end of a “colour revolution” getting ahead of the organisers; up to this moment they had been reacting, always wrongly and too late. But many of the security forces in Crimea in 2014 had been on the Maidan and had ample opportunity to observe how “spontaneity” is organised.

The authorities and their security services are becoming proactive and are using social media – a good example was the recording of the organisers of the Hong Kong protests meeting with a US Embassy official. And we have the recording of one of Navalniy’s associates asking for money from a UK Embassy official; not, he assured the official, “a big amount of money for people who have billions at stake”. Sometimes it’s fortuitous and not the result of planning by the target’s security services. A civil airliner receives a (fake) bomb threat, it lands according to the rules, one of the passengers is a “colour revolution” operative, they arrest him, he sings. There is still some mystery in the Protasevich story, but the Western version is certainly not true.

And when it’s over and failed, Washington casually dismisses its tools. Where is Yushchenko today? Once the darling of the “Orange Revolution” in Kiev, today he is a non-person. Saakashvili, re-used and failed again in Ukraine, is in prison in Tbilisi today. No fuss is made about him. Áñez is in jail, Protasevich forgotten. We’ve seen many West-leaning democratic saviours come and go in Russia – Berezovskiy, Khodorkovskiy and Pussy Riot are in the past; today it’s Navalniy but he’s probably passed his best-before date. Just props in the “colour revolution” theatre.

And we come to another secret of beating the “colour revolution” – tough it out. The Emperor Alexander told the French Ambassador that Napoleon’s enemies had given up too soon, he, on the other hand, would go to Kamchatka if need be. He went to Paris instead. Maduro still sits in the presidential office in Caracas, Guaidó is reduced to begging; Brussels has stopped pretending but Washington holds fast to the delusion. Lukashenka remains. Beijing toughed it out in Hong Kong. On the contrary, in Georgia (“Rose Revolution“) Shevardnadze was unwilling to use force and in Kiev (“Orange Revolution” and Maidan) Yanukovych was unwilling to use force. Not, of course that they weren’t blamed anyway by the Western propaganda apparatus (which was unashamed to call these scenes in Kiev and Hong Kong “peaceful” and never wondered where all the orange tents came from). All designed of course, to incite a violent reaction by the authorities which would be packaged by the complaisant Western media as violence against peaceful protesters. Not at all the same thing, of course, in the Western “human rights” Rules-Based International Order construction, as anything going on in Melbourne, or Paris, or London. To a degree, “colour revolutions” are waiting games and the incumbent, if he keeps his nerve, has certain advantages.

But probably the strongest prophylactic against a “colour revolution” is to prevent it from starting. And here it is necessary to drive out the foreign “Non Government” Organisations before they get established. There will, of course, be much protest from the West but it is important for the targets to understand that their press coverage in the West is and always will be negative, no matter what they do, say or argue. It’s propaganda, it’s not supposed to be fact-based. And it’s often amusingly repetitive – the Western propagandists are too lazy and too contemptuous of their audience not to recycle yesterday’s panics. For example: remember when Russia hacked the Vermont power grid in 2016? this time it’s “an angry Chinese President Xi Jinping” shutting down Canadian power plants. Sometimes it’s sloppily idiotic: CNN tells us that Russia, China and Iran are all hacking away at the US election system; it then goes on to say that Russia likes Trump and China likes Biden; Therefore, as Sherlock Holmes would conclude, CNN must believe that that Iran decided the outcome. The target should not worry about Western coverage – if you’re today’s target, all coverage will negative. Vide contemporary excitement over “violations of Taiwan’s airspace” without mentioning this simultaneous event. Facts don’t matter: the Panama Papers were about Putin except that they didn’t mention him and therefore they must have been by Putin. The Pandora Papers give us the re-run.

Former successes – in recent times, Ukraine twice, Georgia – are becoming failures: Hong Kong, Venezuela and Belarus. The targets have learned how to counter the attacks. The essential rules for defeating “colour revolutions” are:

  1. They come from outside. So cut out the outsiders and get rid of the foreign “Non-Government” Organisations. This is probably the most important preventative: the “colour revolution” operators were quite unhindered in, for example, Ukraine.
  2. Remember Alexander’s advice: don’t give up too soon. Maduro and Lukashenka are still there. To say nothing of Russia, China and Iran.
  3. Don’t be afraid that you’ll be blamed: you will be anyway. The Western propaganda machine is not interested in facts.
  4. Be tough. There’s a rhythm to these things; if you interrupt them, its hard for them to get back on track.
  5. Be patient, as we saw in Hong Kong, the outrage is mostly artificial and will run out of steam.
  6. Learn the techniques of how they’re done, watch for them and counter them.
  7. And finally: time is on your side. The West is not getting stronger. What the neocons call “the axis of revisionists” is.

AFGHANISTAN: SAME, SAME; AGAIN, AGAIN

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

The lesson of Afghanistan is not that the US is washed up as a great power. The lesson is that the US is such a great power, militarily and economically, that it is continually tempted to try hopeless things that nobody else on earth – including China – would ever attempt.

David Frum gives new meaning to the expression “in denial”.

Don’t believe what you’re told by the generals, or the ambassadors, or people in the administration saying we’re never going to do this again. That’s exactly what we said after Vietnam. We’re never going to do this again. Lo and behold we did Iraq. And we did Afghanistan. We will do this again.

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)

Bill Ehrhart arrived in Vietnam in 1967 believing everything. His first indication that all was not as expected came when he wasn’t welcomed the way Allied soldiers had been in 1944. A couple of days later he was shocked to see “detainees”, bound hand and foot, casually tossed off a high vehicle by other Marines. This didn’t seem to be the way to treat people the Americans were there to help said he to his companion who told him to keep his mouth shut “until you know what’s going on around here”. And, he continues in this video, “it went downhill from there”. Every day patrols met “snipers and mines” but he saw hardly any enemy soldiers. He came to realise that the Viet Cong didn’t have to force people to fight the Americans; once a Marine patrol had destroyed its way through a village, they’d have all the recruits they needed:

the longer we stayed in Vietnam, the more Viet Cong there were, because we created them; we produced them… The Vietnamese people hated me and I gave them every reason to hate me.

The war he saw bore no resemblance to the optimistic stuff he read in Time Magazine and other mass media. So he hunkered down, stopped asking the questions of what and why – “the questions themselves were too ugly even to ask” – did what he did and waited for the date when he would go home.

This story is from Afghanistan but it fits Ehrhart’s conclusion perfectly. The first Americans into a valley in 2001 make contact with a local timber baron; he tells them his rival is a Taliban supporter; the rival is bombed; he loses his business, some of his family are killed and he does join Taliban. You can just imagine the locals, when these dumb and ignorant – but terribly destructive – aliens drop out of the sky, calculating how best to manipulate them. The Americans never think to reflect on Putin’s observation of five years ago:

The extremists in this case are more cunning, clever and stronger than you, and if you play these games with them, you will always lose.

Or try to answer his question: “who’s playing who here?

The scene shifts to Afghanistan as we move four decades ahead from Ehrhard’s observations. For example, in this account in the Military Times:

  • Expecting to be welcomed: “I just felt we were over there fighting an enemy who attacked America and liberating the people of Afghanistan from Taliban rule”.
  • They’re all the enemy: “It was such a complex war with more than one enemy, not just the Taliban… Sometimes it seemed like it was just some young, bored kids shooting at us”.
  • The happy-happy reports are all fake: “Seeing politicians use Afghanistan and Iraq as a talking points without any action, then seeing young men and women run through deployment after deployment until they have nothing left to give, only to be discarded and left to figure out how to cope…”.

What’s the difference between these American soldiers’ experiences in Afghanistan and their predecessors’ in Vietnam?

Ehrhart doesn’t talk about personnel rotation policy in Vietnam although there is an allusion to it: he knew to the day when his time would end and, as it happened, he was literally plucked out of a firefight and sent home. The practice was that junior officers were at the front for six months and other ranks for one year. Thus an individual infantryman might go through two or three platoon commanders with fellow platoon members appearing and disappearing as their dates came up. The effects of unit cohesion were devastating – indeed there was no unit cohesion at all. This rotation policy was argued to be one of the reasons for the defeat as described in this essay. A colleague of mine was peripherally involved in this discussion as he presented the British/Commonwealth “regimental system” in which units and subunits went in together and came out together. But what do we see in Afghanistan four decades later?

Hearts and minds sounded great on paper, but it was often seen as an empty promise to the locals… We would inevitably break those promises in one of two ways. First, the command may just up and move us to a different area, leaving those who helped us high and dry. Second, frequent deployment rotations meant personal relationships would only last, at most, a few months to a year.

And, of course, that great favourite of the American Way of War – bombing. Lots of bombing. In the Vietnam War the US is said to have dropped seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I haven’t found tonnage numbers for Afghanistan, but there are numbers on “weapons releases”. This presumably includes bombs (but was each “dumb” bomb really counted?) and missiles but not artillery or – vide the destruction of the MSF hospital in KunduzHercules gunships. The numbers I can find say that there were, between 2013 and 2019, about 26,500 “releases” plus about another 21,000 going back to 2006. Another estimate puts it at at least 81,000 in total. It is generally accepted that 160,000 tons were dropped on Japan proper – a country with numerous shipyards, naval bases, aircraft and munition factories; few of which existed in Vietnam and none at all in Afghanistan. What were they bombing?

The next similarity is that reports in both wars were, to put it gently, doctored to make things look better than they were. The Pentagon Papers have their direct match in the Afghanistan Papers. From each it is clear that the authorities knew, from the first few years, that it was a failure; but they hid, lied and obfuscated. Each commander kicked the failure down the road for his successor to deal with. Official accounts of each war show plenty of “light at the end of the tunnel”, “turning the corner” year after year until the last corner was turned and the lights went out.

In Vietnam the enemy was moving under forest cover, so the US forces dropped immense quantities – tens of thousands of cubic metres – of defoliants to clear away the leaves they were hiding under. Few trees in Afghanistan so instead there was geological bombing “blasting away mountain passes and potential cover to limit where and how militants can operate”. An insane use of technology and destructive power substituting for tactical competence. And little to no effect on the outcome.

Accounts of soldiers’ experiences in Vietnam speak of patrols that, when they run into snipers or mines, call in artillery or airstrikes at vague targets – effectively saturation bombing – and helicopter out. We hear the same thing in Afghanistan. The only difference being that patrols in the former were on foot and in the latter in vehicles. It sees that the patrols had little purpose other than to show a presence: they’re not armies moving closer to Berlin or some other objective, they are just moving around. Something to do with “hearts and minds”, I suppose. But targets for the enemy and the opportunity for immense random destruction in retaliation.

Fake metrics are another similarity. Robert McNamara was US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1966 – the very height of the Vietnam War. He had been a “whiz kid” at Ford and had had the knack of impressing his superiors with flow charts and numbers. His behaviour in Vietnam has led to an entire fallacy being named in his honour. The “McNamara Fallacy” is described by Daniel Yankelovich as the following four steps

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes.

The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading.

The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness.

The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

In the Vietnam case the “easily measured” was the famous body count – number of enemy soldiers killed: the higher the number, the closer to “the light at the end of the tunnel”. According to this source, a rough calculation suggests that in 1965 there were more than five million males aged 15-39 in Vietnam and another seven million younger. That’s lot of bodies between the USA and victory. Secondly, if that’s what the boss wants to hear, that’s what we’ll tell him and the metric rapidly became GIGO. In Afghanistan, according to this account, it was dollars spent:

Perversely, because it was the easiest thing to monitor, the amount of money spent by a program often became the most important measure of success. A USAID official told SIGAR, “The Hill was always asking, ‘Did you spend the money?’…I didn’t hear many questions about what the effects were.”

Schools, hospitals, roads: hard to find, hard to measure (especially with widespread corruption) – bundles of hundred-dollar bills out the door easy to measure and so that became Afghanistan’s version of McNamara’s Fallacy. The make-believe precision measurement of nothing.

In a word, everything I’ve written about the American Way of War has been illustrated in the Afghanistan failure. The initial success feeding the appetite for further engagement and ever-larger aims. The assumption of free air movement and reliable communications. The obsession with technology. The self-replicating intelligence feedback cycle in which you only hear what you want to hear culminating in the final error of how much time was left to get out. The reinforcement of failure – bombing hasn’t worked, do more of it; can’t find the enemy, change the terrain. Worthless metrics. Inability to see things from the enemy’s perspective.

The only difference between the American performances in Vietnam and Afghanistan is that in the first, the vehicles were painted green and in the second, sand. They should sit out the next one.

WHAT TO DO? – THE EUROPEAN DILEMMA

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

According to hoary tradition, there are two obsessive questions in Russian history: who is guilty and what is to be done? This assertion is likely another Russophobic trope in which Russia was, is and always will be a mess populated by supine drunks slurring “Not me” and “Pass the bottle”. Nonetheless, good questions they are and ones that Europeans should ponder. Here are some circumstances that call out for doing something different.

European Union as an emerging superpower” – Wikipedia has a whole article on it. And, on paper, it is: the population, the economic power, the potential military power, the intellectual power and everything else necessary to become a significant independent player on the world scene – fully equal to any other major power. Except… it isn’t. Why isn’t it? Why did it follow Washington’s lead and sanction Russia? The sanctions have certainly cost it more than the USA and probably more than Russia; Washington, on the other hand, never sanctions Russian rocket engines or Russian oil. Why do the Europeans dutifully swallow it down? Many of them followed Washington into Afghanistan and other disastrous military adventures for a reward of failure and crisis. At least they’ve found the will to stop pretending Guaido is really President of Venezuela but they’re piling on Belarus at Washington’s command. Why? No kind of “superpower” on the geopolitical stage, the EU pretty well does what it’s told by Washington. There’s the occasional rebellion – Germany and Nord Stream 2 – but then the obsequious sending of a warship on a FON mission to please Washington. Hoping to cut the cost with a cringing attempt to placate Beijing. Are these the actions of a self-respecting independent country? What is to be done?

When a country signs up with the EU, it signs up to the complete package. Not just the diktats of the bureaucracy in Brussels but the ever-metastasising “human rights” package. I use quotation marks because, these days, human rights to the West appears to be concerned with nothing other than what Monty Python called “your naughty bits”; Assange is never to be mentioned and nor is Yemen. The LGBTQIA+ obsession sits poorly with some of the members. Against them the full vocabulary is mobilised – Poland’s victorious party is “right wing” and “populist”. Epithets that fall just short of Hungary’s “soft fascism”:

Hungary is a warning of what could happen when a ruthless, anti-minority populist backed by a major political party is allowed to govern unchecked.

Here’s Hungary’s Orbán defending himself. But so great is his sin that some say Hungary should be expelled from the EU. And maybe Poland too. The DM has a piece that is reasonably balanced, once you get past the obligatory insult (“ugly far-right”):

Instead of a serene and harmonious Europe of Tuscan villas, Provencal markets, German opera and Bavarian beer halls, we are witnessing rancorous divisions over migration, economic stagnation and incipient independence movements. And the bitter truth is that in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, there is now a stridently anti-Brussels, anti-migrant and anti-Establishment movement with the increasingly angry peoples of these nations convinced they are being treated as second-class citizens.

Hungary and Poland did not get out from under the diktat of Moscow to subjugate themselves to the diktat of Brussels. What is to be done?

When the Euro was introduced, each country produced its own coins; citizens could have coins from Spain, Greece, Germany and Poland in their pockets; each with its own language and symbols. An effective demonstration of unity. The paper money was an equally instructive, but contrary, choice. Architectural details: a Romanesque door, a Gothic arch, but no particular door or arch – generalised Romanesque or Gothic. Or, to put it rudely, architectural details from plastic buildings in Walt Disney’s Euroland. And that is where Orbán does not want to live: he wants to live in Hungary, the ancient homeland of Hungarians. He fears that Brussels is building a smushed together fake Europe: no Frenchmen, just baguettes; no Italians, just gelato; no Spanish, just paella. Consumed in buildings populated from people from somewhere else; in a décor with arches of no particular provenance. No history, no reality – a movie set. Orbán is the most prominent of those who think this way but there are many more in the real, actual Europe – AfD in Germany, LePen in France, Five Star in Italy: it’s a growing phenomenon; so widespread that the tired epithets of “far-right” or “fascist” or “populist” have a contrary effect. They are becoming the European equivalents of “deplorable” in the USA – because they so despise the insulters, the insulted take pride in being insulted. What is to be done?

Refugees/migrants. They used to pretend it was not a problem – even welcomed it – but that pretence is harder to support now. And, little by little, they notice. But where do these people come from? That’s easy – here’s the list: the leading three countries of origin are Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. What do these three countries have in common? A question that shouldn’t even have to be asked but, still, is unasked. The next two are Nigeria (partly connected with NATO’s destruction of Libya) and Pakistan which brings us to NATO’s destruction of Afghanistan. NATO’s GenSek flatulates:

When it comes to NATO’s role in addressing the migrant and refugee crisis, so NATO’S main role has been to address the root causes, the instability in the region and trying to help stabilize the countries where the refugees are coming from.

“Root causes” indeed: “stability” is, of course, NATOese for chaos. Ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant. Here are pictures of the solitude NATO made and what preceded it. Is it surprising that the inhabitants want to leave that solitude and go somewhere else? Again Europe is paying for the consequences of Washington’s destruction of the MENA. What is to be done?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was the result of a long and complicated negotiation between Iran on the one hand and China, France, Russia, UK, USA, Germany and the EU on the other. The agreement provided an inspection regime that would ensure that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons; Tehran agreed, it was adopted by the UNSC and ratified by the EU. But it was never ratified in the USA – Obama made it an “executive agreement” – which made it easy for his successor to abandon the “horrible” agreement and sanction Iran. Under the CAATSA law, sanctions are contagious: if you disobey them, you’re sanctioned too. And since Washington has great power over the world’s – West’s anyway – economies, its sanctions are potent. Washington has formally declared Iran a terrorist country; on negligible evidence, of course; but what matter? Europe must obey. Thus, after immense negotiation and general satisfaction with the result, Europe finds itself subject to the whim of Washington on its trade with Iran and forced to kneel. Biden promised to return to the deal but, thus far, American negotiators want Iran to make concessions: “The ball remains in Iran’s court” while Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has warned against trusting the West and so the outlook looks poor. Europe didn’t walk out of the agreement and neither did Tehran, but they will be paying the cost of Washington’s walkout. What is to be done?

And then the protests. Ostensibly about COVID restrictions, fuel prices or migrants, they’re really protests against uncaring, unresponsive and incompetent rulers. On the last Saturday in July “Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators were seen in London, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Athens, and other cities across Europe“. The next Saturday “major mobilizations took place in several European cities including Berlin, Rome, Paris, Marseille and Lyon, among others”. Lithuania a couple of days ago. The protests have been met with considerable police brutality as Moscow delighted in pointing out in the video it handed out in February. But plenty more examples since then and more protests to come. What is to be done?

The UK finally left the EU. Who will be next? If the unthinkable happened once, it can happen again. And the history of referendums is not encouraging for advocates of the EU: France and The Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005. The name was changed and Ireland rejected the re-tread in 2008 but approved it on a re-run in 2009. If this sort of finagling happened in, say, Belarus, there would be solemn condemnations throughout Europe of Lukashenka’s undemocratic behaviour. In the actual Europe, Brussels has learned never to let the people anywhere near a decision again. What is to be done?

Afghanistan. What more is there to say? Many European countries, believing what Washington told them, trusting Washington’s competence and leadership, buying into and contributing to NATO’s gassy platitudes about its new role, spent years, lives and treasure in a futile effort. The final disillusion was the US President solemnly declaring they had months, when there were only days dwindling quickly to hours. Their soldiers and “nation-builders” are now now being “sent under the yoke” in Kabul. What is to be done?

Finally, why pay all that money to visit Los Angeles when you can stay home in Paris and see the same thing for free? What is to be done?

What is to be done?

Well, here’s a list of things that Brussels could work towards.

  • Aim for genuine independence: preserve that thought of a united Europe becoming an independent force in the world.
  • Russia is there, it’s not going away, it’s not getting weaker; forge relations with it, on Europe’s own terms, following its own, true, interests. Europe has to live with Russia, the USA does not.
  • Ditto with China.
  • NATO does nothing for Europe except get it stuck into disasters that – see refugees – see Afghanistan – see Libya – see Syria – Europeans wind up paying for; quit it; form a genuinely European independent defensive alliance.
  • Ukraine – another Washington project – will not have happy consequences. Change behaviour.
  • Washington is not really a friend; cut dependence on it and reduce the links.
  • Understand that lots of things in the world are a) none of Europe’s business b) nothing it can do anything about. Moralistic posturing is not a useful starting position.
  • Exceptionalism is a bust: Moscow learned it the hard way; Washington is learning it the hard way; learn from their mistakes.

But the depressing reality is that the chances of that happening are probably somewhere between none and a lot less than none. But maybe – maybe – the Afghanistan disaster will concentrate minds in Europe: things are not going as they should.

As to who is to blame? That’s for later.