NATO: A DANGEROUS PAPER TIGER

(First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/16/nato-dangerous-paper-tiger.html)

The Chinese have a genius for pithy expressions and few are more packed with meaning, while immediately understandable, than “paper tiger”. NATO is one, but paper tigers that overestimate their powers can be dangerous.

Some Russians are concerned that there are today more hostile troops at the Russian border than at any time since 1941. While this is true, it is not, at the moment, very significant. The Germans invaded the USSR with nearly 150 divisions in 1941. Which, as it turned out, were not enough.

Today NATO has – or claims to have – a battle group in each of the three Baltic countries and one in Poland: pompously titled Enhanced Forward Presence. The USA has a brigade and talks of another. A certain amount of heavy weaponry has been moved to Europe. These constitute the bulk of the land forces at the border. They amount to, at the most optimistic assessment, assuming everything is there and ready to go, one division. Or, actually, one division equivalent (a very different thing) from 16 (!) countries with different languages, military practices and equipment sets and their soldiers ever rotating through. And, in a war, the three in the Baltics would be bypassed and become either a new Dunkirk or a new Cannae. All for the purpose, we are solemnly told, of sending “a clear message that an attack on one Ally would be met by troops from across the Alliance“. But who’s the “message” for? Moscow already has a copy of the NATO treaty and knows what Article V says.

In addition to the EFP are the national forces. But they are in a low state: “depleted armies” they’ve been called: under equipped and under manned; seldom exercised. The German parliamentary ombudsman charged with overseeing the Bundeswehr says “There are too many things missing“. In 2008 the French Army was described as “falling apart“. The British Army “can’t find enough soldiers“. The Italian army is ageing. Poland, one of the cheerleaders for the “Russian threat” meme, finds its army riven over accusations of politicisation. On paper, these five armies claim to have thirteen divisions and thirteen independent brigades. Call it, optimistically, a dozen divisions in all. The US Army (which has its own recruiting difficulties) adds another eleven or so to the list (although much of it is overseas entangled in the metastasising “war on terror”). Let’s pretend all the other NATO countries can bring another five divisions to the fight.

So, altogether, bringing everything home from the wars NATO is fighting around the world, under the most optimistic assumptions, assuming that everything is there and working (fewer than half of France’s tanks were operational, German painted broomsticks, British recruiting shortfalls), crossing your fingers and hoping, NATO could possibly cobble together two and a half dozen divisions: or one-fifth of the number Germany thought it would need. But, in truth, that number is fantasy: undermanned, under equipped, seldom exercised, no logistics tail, no munitions production backup, no time for a long logistics build up. NATO’s armies aren’t capable of a major war against a first class enemy. And no better is the principal member: “only five of the U.S. Army’s 15 armored brigade combat teams are maintained at full readiness levels“. A paper tiger.

This reality was on display – for those who could see – in the “Dragoon Ride” of 2015. Intended “to assure those allies that live closest to the Bear that we are here“, it was a parade of light armoured vehicles armed with heavy machine guns. Although breathlessly covered in the US media (“Show the world some of the firepower the United States and its NATO partners have in Eastern Europe“), it is unlikely that any watcher who had served in a Warsaw Pact army was impressed by what was in effect a couple of dozen BTR-50s. And neither was the US Army when it thought about it: a rush program was put into effect to give the vehicles a bigger weapon. The first one was delivered a year later. So now the US Army has a few lightly armoured vehicles with cannons. Something like the Soviet BTR-80 of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the Russians have the Bumerang-BM turret. Years of kicking in doors and patrolling roads hoping there are no IEDs are poor preparation for a real war.

No wonder NATO prefers to bomb defenceless targets from 15,000 feet. But there too, the record is unimpressive. Consider NATO’s last “successful” performance against Libya in 2011. No air defence, no opposition, complete freedom of movement and choice of action; and it took 226 days! Kosovo, a similar air action against a weak opponent, took 79 days. Meanwhile the years roll by in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not, in short, a very efficient military alliance even when it is turned on against more-or-less helpless victims.

But there is one obvious question: does NATO take all its Russian threat rhetoric seriously, or is it just an advertising campaign? A campaign to bring in £240 million from the Baltics, an extra eighty billion for the US military-industrial complex, US$28 billion for Poland, Patriot missiles for Sweden, billions for F-35s for Norway (but no hangars for them), spending increases in the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Czech Republic and so on. A Russian threat is good for business: there’s poor money in a threat made of IEDs, bomb vests and small arms. Big profits require big threats. As I have written elsewhere, Russia was thought to be the right size of threat – big enough, but not too big. And they thought it was a safe target too – remember Obama in 2015 and his confidence that Russia didn’t amount to much?

Or so they thought then. What is amusing is that NATO is starting to worry about what it has awoken: “aerial denial zones“, British army wiped out in an afternoon, NATO loses quickly in the Baltics, unstoppable carrier-killer missile, “eye-watering” EW capabilities, “black hole” submarines, generational lead in tanks, “devastating” air defence system, “totally outmatched“. Russian actions, both diplomatic and military, in Syria gave NATO a taste: the Russian military is far more capable than they imagined. And far better wielded. The phantom conjured up to justify arms sales and NATO expansion now frightens its creators. A particularly striking example comes from General Breedlove, former NATO Supreme Commander who did much to poke Russia: he now fears that a war “would leave Europe helpless, cut off from reinforcements, and at the mercy of the Russian Federation.” Not as negligible as they thought.

To what should we compare this weak, incompetent but endlessly boastful and belligerent alliance? In the past I have suggested that NATO is a drunk that drinks to cure the effects of its last bender. Is it a child in an endless tantrum, frightening itself with the stories it tells itself? Like the Warsaw Pact it is frightened of contradicting information or opinion and insists they be blocked. Certainly it is an exemplar of complacent self delusion: “Projecting Stability Beyond Our Borders” boasts about the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. The unicorns roam free in NATOland.

There is no reason to bother to read anything that comes out of NATO Headquarters: it’s only wind. There is one response. And that is Libya. When they say stability, respond Libya. When they say terrorism, respond Libya. When they say peace, respond Libya. When they say dialogue, respond Libya. When they say values, respond Libya. NATO is dangerous in the way that the stupid and deluded can be. But, when its principal member starts demanding its members “pay their share”, and the people of five members see Washington a greater threat than Moscow, maybe its final days are upon us.

But incessant repetition becomes reality and that’s where the danger lies. Hysteria has reached absurd proportions: 2014’s “gas station masquerading as a country” decides who sits in the White House; directs referendums in Europe; rules men’s minds through RT and Sputnik; dominates social media; every Russian exercise brings panic. This would all be amusing enough except for the fact that Moscow doesn’t get the joke. While the NATO forces on their border may be insignificant at the moment, they can grow and all armies must prepare for the worst. The First Guards Tank Army is being re-created. I discuss the significance of that here. When it is ready – and Moscow moves much faster than NATO – it will be more than a match, offensively or defensively, for NATO’s paper armies. And, if Moscow thinks it needs more, more will come. And there will be no cost-free bombing operations at 15,000 feet against Russia. NATO’s naval strength, which is still real, is pretty irrelevant to operations against Russia. And still the paper tiger bares its paper teeth.

In other words – and I never tire of quoting him on this – “We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way”. NATO has been kiting cheques for years. And rather than soberly examine its bank account, it writes another, listening to the applause in the echo chamber of its mind.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” We can only hope that NATO’s coming destruction does not destroy us too.

DIPLOMATIC RECIPROCITIES

(Question from Sputnik about my thoughts on Moscow’s reaction to the US visa slowdown.)

The cynic would say that, after the reduction, the US has too few staff to spare from plotting Putin’s overthrow to do normal diplomatic duties. Or maybe it’s some half-witted notion that, deprived of a chance to go to Disney World, the Russian population will rise up and overthrow Putin and let the US Navy into Sevastopol at last. It is however somewhat ironic, given the American confidence in the superiority of their own system, that they would want to make it harder for Russians to experience such a superior exemplar of freedom and democracy.

As to Russia’s retaliation, the diplomatic business is based on reciprocity or so, in my experience, is the Russian practice. So there will be some retaliation and one that will likely astonish Foggy Bottom

My belief is that Russia has realised that, as Putin told Stone, individuals may change but the US system does not. Given Washington’s support for opposition figures, its predilection for interference, its funding of GONGOs hostile to the Russian government, military actions in the neighbourhood, oft-stated declarations of enmity culminating in the latest sanctions, I would expect that Moscow is ready to follow Washington all the way down to zero representation if that’s where it goes. Moscow has less to lose than Washington.

One can always hope that a more sensible approach will win out but that hope is ebbing away as Trump makes more and more concessions to the War Party and his “why not make friends with Russia” thoughts are washing away.

If — one never wants to completely give up hope — the Russiangate nonsense is blown up thereby destroying the pretext for the original US actions, then maybe we can get back to something normal.

(But I would still advise Russia — as I would other countries — to insist on exact reciprocity of numbers and to expel all American GONGOs so as to reduce the capacity for mischief.)

Getting to the end of the book

In the as yet un-written “History of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire”, the recent sanctions (if enacted) will come as the conclusion of the third-last chapter. The chapter after that will be entitled “The Fall” and the final “The Aftermath”.

One hopes the book will be written by humans and not by aliens studying our radioactive remains.

“Anti-Russian Sanctions Bill ‘Will Result in a Tectonic Break Between US, Europe'” (Sputnik)

“Europe is a scapegoat in the US sanctions war against Russia” (Oriental Review

“Trump’s ‘America First’ vs. McCain’s ‘America Last’” (David Goldman)

“Imperial Folly Brings Russia and Germany Together” (Escobar)

“The U.S. Sanctions Bill Is a Win for Russia” (National Interest)

Les sanctions américaines poussent la Russie à abandonner le dollar – Le vice-ministre des Affaires Etrangères Sergei Ryabkov(REF)

“Let’s Cut Them Off From Space’: How Russia Could Strike Back at US Sanctions” (REF)

“Collateral Damage: U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Russia Strike Western European Allies” (REF)

“The New Russian Sanctions Bill Is Washington’s Monument To Its Criminality” (PCR)

“The U.S. Empire Continues to Stumble Towards Ruin” (REF)

“US new anti-Russian sanctions point a dagger at the heart of Europe” (REF)

“Time for Europe to Stand up to US Hawks on Russia” (Neil Clark)

“Why US Sanctions Bill is the Last Straw for Russia, Iran, North Korea” (Gilbert Mercier)

“Sanctions, Smoke and Mirrors from a Kindergarten on LSD” (Saker)

“Is Trump Set to Sanction Our Dreams of Peace?” (Phil Butler)

“New Russian Sanctions Show Putin Exactly Where To Retaliate” (Jeffrey Carr)

“Milk-Bar Clausewitzes, Bean Curd Napoleons: In the Reign of Kaiser Don” (Fred)

“House Passes New Russia Sanctions, Pumps Adrenaline Into Cold War 2.0” (Ron Paul Inst)

“On Russia sanctions, Trump has a point” (Ignatius WaPo)

“How the World May End” (John Pilger)

“Isolated Trump Flails Helplessly as He Bows to Irrational Policies on Russia and Europe Imposed by Congress” (Jatras)

“US Sanctions — a Looney Tunes Bad Remake”(Wm Engdahl)

“How Russia Could Strike Back Against US Sanctions In 4 Simple Maps” (REF)

“Between Cersei and Daenerys” (Israel Shamir)

New Sanctions Against Russia – A Failure Of U.S. Strategy” (MoA)

“KUNSTLER: ‘Russia Sanctions Will Blow up in America’s Face'” (REF)

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Russia’s superpower ambitions are not limited to exercising, sometime in the future, greater control over its next-door neighbors. Its avowed primary objective is still to reduce America’s global influence as much as possible. As long as Russia’s leadership indulges every opportunity to damage U.S. interests abroad, any effort to treat today’s Russia as a genuine partner would have to be based on a significant degree of self-deception. There is an expansionist mentality among Russia’s ruling elite, deeply rooted in the country’s past, which makes it difficult for them to consider forming a partnership with the West. This almost permanent urge for territorial expansion has at the same time become a scourge for the Russian people, who continue to live in appalling poverty in a country rich in resources

Jan Nowak “What NATO can do for Russia” Washington Times, 19 Apr 2000 (Nowak is a former consultant to the National Security Council on Central and Eastern European Affairs. For 25 years he was director of the Polish Service for Radio Free Europe).

When Intelligence Isn’t

First published at http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/05/when-intelligence-isnt.html

In my career in the Canadian government I was never formally in “intelligence” but I did participate in writing many “intelligence assessments”. Facebook, Twitter and other kinds of social media didn’t much exist at that time but, even if they had, I can’t imagine that we would have ever used them as sources of evidence: social media is, to put it mildly, too easy to fake. In writing intelligence assessments, while we did use information gathered from intelligence sources (ie secret), probably more came from what was rather pompously called OSInt (Open Source Intelligence; in other words, stuff you don’t need a security clearance to learn). What was, however, the most important part of creating an assessment was the long process of discussion in the group. Much talk and many rewrites produced a consensus opinion.

A typical intelligence assessment would start with a question – what’s going on with the economy, or political leadership or whatever of Country X – and would argue a conclusion based on facts. So: question, argument, conclusion. And usually a prediction – after all the real point of intelligence is to attempt to reduce surprises. The intelligence assessment then made its way up the chain to the higher ups; they may have ignored or disagreed with the conclusions but, as far as I know, the assessment, signed off by the group that had produced it, was not tampered with: I never heard of words being put into our mouths. The intelligence community regards tampering with an intelligence assessment to make it look as if the authors had said something different as a very serious sin. All of this is preparation to say that I know what an intelligence assessment is supposed to look like and that I have seen a lot of so-called intelligence assessments coming out of Washington that don’t look like the real thing.

Intelligence is quite difficult. I like the analogy of trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle when you don’t know what the picture is supposed to be, you don’t know how many pieces the puzzle has and you’re not sure that the pieces that you have are actually from the same puzzle. Let us say, for example, that you intercept a phonecall in which the Leader of Country X is telling one of his flunkeys to do something. Surely that’s a gold standard? Well, not if the Leader knew you were listening (and how would you know if he did?); nor if he’s someone who changes his mind often. There are very few certainties in the business and many many opportunities for getting it wrong.

So real raw intelligence data is difficult enough to evaluate; social media, on the other hand, has so many credibility problems that it is worthless; worthless, that is, except as evidence of itself (ie a bot campaign is evidence that somebody has taken the effort to do one). It is extremely easy to fake: a Photoshopped picture can be posted and spread everywhere in hours; bots can create the illusion of a conversation; phonecall recordings are easily stitched together: here are films of Buks, here are phonecalls. (But, oddly enough, all the radars were down for maintenance that day). It’s so easy, in fact, that it’s probably easier to create the fake than to prove that it is a fake. There is no place in an intelligence assessment for “evidence” from something as unreliable as social media.

An “intelligence assessment” that uses social media is suspect.

So why are there so many “intelligence assessments” on important issues depending on social media “evidence”?

I first noticed social media used as evidence during the MH17 catastrophe when Marie Harf, the then US State Department spokesman, appealed to social media and “common sense”. She did so right after the Russians had posted radar evidence (she hadn’t “seen any of that” said she). At the time I assumed that she was just incompetent. It was only later, when I read the “intelligence assessments” backing up the so-called Russian influence on the US election, that I began to notice the pattern.

There are indications during the Obama Administration that the intelligence professionals were becoming restive. Here are some examples that suggest that “intelligence assessments” were either not being produced by the intelligence professionals or – see the last example – those that were were then modified to please the Boss.

If one adds the reliance on social media to these indications, it seems a reasonable suspicion that these so-called intelligence assessments are not real intelligence assessments produced by intelligence professionals but are post facto justifications written up by people who know what the Boss wants to hear.

We have already seen what appears to have been the first example of this with the “social media and common sense” of MH17. And, from that day to this, not a shred of Kerry’s “evidence” have we seen. The long-awaited Dutch report was, as I said at the time, only a modified hangout and very far from convincing.

Russia “invaded” Ukraine so many times it became a joke. The “evidence” was the usual social media accompanied by blurry satellite photos. So bad are the photos, in fact, that someone suggested that “Russian artillery” were actually combine harvesters. In one of the rare departures from the prescribed consensus, a former (of course) German Chief of Staff was utterly unconvinced by thse pictures and explained why. By contrast, here is a satellite photo of Russian aircraft in Syria; others here. Sharply focussed and in colour. The “Russian invasion” photos were lower quality than the Cuban Missile Crisis photos taken six decades earlier! A hidden message? See below.

The so-called Syrian government CW attack on Ghouta in August 2013 was similarly based on social media; heavily dependent, in fact, on “Bellingcat”. Quite apart from the improbability of Assad ordering a CW attack on a suburb a short drive away from arriving international inspectors, the whole story was adequately destroyed by Seymour Hersh. (Bellingcat’s “proofs”, by the way, can be safely ignored – see his faked-up “evidence” that Russians attacked an aid convoy in Syria.)

A dominant story for months has been that Russia somehow influenced the US presidential election. As ever, the Washington Post led the charge and the day after the election told us “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House“. But when we finally saw the “secret assessments” they proved to be laughably damp squibs. The DHS/FBI report of 29 December 2016 carried this stunning disclaimer:

This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the DNI report of 6 January 2017 was the space – nearly half – devoted to a rant that had been published four years earlier about the Russian TV channel RT. What that had to do with the Russian state influencing the 2016 election was obscure. But, revealingly, the report included:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

In other words, DHS told us to ignore its report and the one agency in the US intelligence structure that would actually know about hacking and would have copies of everything – the NSA – wasn’t very confident. Both reports were soon torn apart: John McAfee: “I can promise you if it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you it was not the Russians”. (See 10:30). Jeffrey Carr: “Fatally flawed“. Julian Assange: not a state actor. Even those who loath Putin trashed them. In any case, as we now know, the NSA can mimic Russians or anyone else.

In April there was another suspiciously timed “CW attack” in Syria and, blithely ignoring that the responders didn’t wear any protective gear in what was supposed to be a Sarin attack, the Western media machine wound up its sirens. The intelligence assessment that was released again referred to “credible open source reporting” and even “pro-opposition social media reports” (! – are the authors so disgusted with what they have to write that they leave gigantic hints like that in plain sight?). Then a page of so of how Moscow trying to “confuse” the world community. And so on. This “intelligence assessment” was taken apart by Theodore Postol.

So, we have strong suggestions that the intelligence professionals are being sidelined or having their conclusions altered; we have far too much reliance of social media; is there anything else that we can see? Yes, there is: many of the “intelligence assessments” contain what look like hints by the authors that their reports are rubbish.

  • Absurdly poor quality photos (maybe they were combine harvesters!).

  • Including a photo of damage to the port engine intake which contradicts the conclusion of the MH-17 report.

  • DHS “does not provide any warranties”.

  • The one agency that would know has only “moderate confidence”.

  • Irrelevant rants about RT or assumed nefarious Russian intentions.

  • “Pro-opposition social media reports”.

There are too many of these, in fact, not to notice – not that the Western media has noticed, of course – they rather jump out at you once you look don’t they? I don’t recall inserting any little such hints into any of the intelligence assessments that I was involved in.

In conclusion, it seems that a well-founded case can be presented that:

Where done? By whom? That remains to be discovered. More Swamp to be drained.

Underestimate Russia and be surprised

These pieces are papers that I believe to be still relevant; they were published earlier elsewhere under a pseudonym. They have been very slightly edited and hyperlinks have been checked.

I originally wrote this in November 2015. It seems appropriate, around Victory Day, to republish it. The manufacturers of Nazi battle standards would have been surprised had they known where they would end up. Likewise French cannon foundries. As there is more and more war talk in the West, it is as well to remember that, while you can easily start a war with Russia, it probably won’t be you who finishes it.

The USA/NATO has been surprised – or is stunned a better word? – by the Russian operation in Syria. The fact that it intervened; the speed with which it did it; the secrecy with which it did it; the numbers of sorties being flown; the accuracy and effectiveness of the strikes. But especially by the discovery that insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea – of all places – have a surprisingly long reach. McCain’s gas station or Obama’s negligible Russia couldn’t possibly be expected to do such things. And, if half the rumours about Russia’s “A2/AD bubble” are true, there’s another huge surprise as well.

Russia, over its millennium of history, has been usually successful in war, and especially so when defeating invaders. The Mongols were eventually seen off, the Teutonic Knights sent home, the Polish-Lithuanian invaders driven out, the Swedes defeated and Napoleon and Hitler were followed home by avenging armies. The West is only faintly aware of this record: it tends to remember Russia’s rare defeats like the Japanese war or World War I and, when Russia (or the USSR) wins, the common opinion in the West is that victory was really owed to factors like “General Winter” or endless manpower. In short, the Western meme is that Russia doesn’t really win, the other side loses.

This is, to put it mildly, incorrect. Dominic Lieven’s book “Russia Against Napoleon” destroys the meme. The author establishes the case that the Emperor Alexander and his government foresaw that war with Napoleon was inevitable, studied how Napoleon fought and made the necessary preparations to defeat him. And defeat him they did. Fighting an army as big as the one that invaded in 1812 led by as brilliant a commander as Napoleon is never going to be easy and Alexander probably didn’t envisage a battle as bloody as Borodino, so close to Moscow, to be indecisive. I’m sure nobody planned for Moscow to be occupied and burned. But, even so, Alexander held to his purpose. He knew that Napoleon’s typical campaign was a swift battlefield victory, followed by negotiations, perhaps the loss of a few bits of territory, a relative or two being made into a prince, and then the gathering of the defeated power into the French camp. In short, Napoleon expected that he and Alexander would meet again when Alexander had been taught a lesson: Russia would then rejoin the “continental system” and its navy would keep the Royal Navy out of the Baltic. Something limited like that. But Alexander was fighting a different war and never came to him. Moscow burned and Napoleon gave up waiting and went home. Certainly, “General Winter” played his part, but the French retreat turned into a rout as they were driven faster and faster by the menacing proximity of the rebuilt Russian Army, harried by warmly dressed Cossack raiders with endless remounts and enraged partisans roused into the first Great Patriotic War. This famous graph tells the story: four hundred thousand went in, ten thousand came out and the Russian army followed Napoleon all the way back to Paris. Lieven explains the planning and the enormous logistics operation which sustained a large army all the 1500 miles from Moscow to Paris. Very far indeed from the Western story of masses of men hurled at a freezing enemy.

In short: Alexander understood how Napoleon did things and surprised him with proper preparation and a full strategy. This, I believe, is the essence of the “Russian way in warfare”. Know and understand the enemy and surprise him. We have just seen this again in Syria. And, for that matter, over and over again in the Ukraine crisis where nothing has gone the way Nuland & Co intended. And in Ossetia in 2008.

While the First World War was a disaster for Russia, surprise and intelligence was present. Germany’s plan to deal with enemies both east and west assumed Russia would take so long to mobilize that the bulk of the German Army could be sent west to knock France out quickly – as it had done in 1870 – and return in time to meet the Russians. The Russians, who perhaps knew this, attacked early and threw the Germans into consternation. Their attack, however, went wrong: the Russian commanders were incompetent, the German commanders weren’t and the Germans were saved. Intelligence and surprise were there, but the execution was bungled. A second intelligence/surprise was the Brusilov Offensive in 1916 (again something not much known in the West). The attack was notable for two innovations later adopted in the Western Front: a short, intense, accurate artillery bombardment immediately followed up by attacks of small groups of specially trained shock troops. Very different indeed from the synchronous Somme offensive on the Western Front with its prolonged bombardment and the slow advance of thousands of heavily burdened soldiers. But, in the end, Russia was overwhelmed by the strains of the first industrial war and undermined by German and Austrian subterfuges and collapsed. Intelligence and surprise weren’t enough.

Intelligence and surprise returned in the Soviet period. In the Far East we saw the perfect combination of surprise in 1939 with the annihilation of a Japanese army at the battle of Khalkin-Gol and intelligence in 1941 with Richard Sorge‘s discovery that Japan was turning south. This intelligence allowed Stavka to transfer divisions, that the Germans had no idea existed, to Moscow and surprise them with the first Soviet victory at the Battle of Moscow. Certainly Hitler surprised Stalin with his attack (although he shouldn’t have because Soviet intelligence picked up many warning signs) but that appears to have been the last German surprise of the war. From then on it was the Soviets who foresaw German plans and surprised them time and time again – the counter attack at Stalingrad and the entire Battle of Kursk being two of the most dramatic examples of the Soviets preparing for what their intelligence told them was coming and achieving complete surprise with their counter-attack. [And, as I have just learned today, the Soviets knew the details of the final German thrust on Moscow]. Again, surprise and intelligence, almost all of it on the Soviet side. (Which should make one wonder what Reinhard Gehlen, head of the German Army’s Soviet intelligence section had to sell the Americans in 1945, shouldn’t it?)

So then, Syria is just the latest example of something that has been present in Russian and Soviet war-fighting doctrine for at least two centuries.

A good piece of advice, then: if you are contemplating a war (even a non-shooting war) against Russia you’d better assume that they have a pretty good idea of what you are doing but that you have very little idea of what they are doing.

It’s much more likely that you will be surprised than you will surprise them.

Lots of people in lots of places over lots of years have underestimated Russia. Most of them have regretted it.

Is there anything in the last couple of years in the West’s anti-Russia campaign that would cause anyone to think otherwise?

The US Missile Strike on Syria: a Theatrical Production for the Simple-Minded?

(I advanced this theory on Andrew Korybko’s show on Sputnik this morning.)

When I first heard that the US had attacked the airfield in Syria, my heart sank. I had hoped that US President Trump would avoid the endless wars that are bringing us all to Armageddon. This action made me fear that either he had been lying to us all along or that the war party had seized control.

But, as I read further and thought more, another possibility occurred to me. The first thing I wondered was why 59 cruise missiles? There simply aren’t 59 thousand-pound warhead targets at that or any other Syrian airfield. Examination of videos and photos showed little damage (and clearly no fear of sarin or other nerve agents either, as people wandered around without any protection). Had I wanted to stage a loud and exciting (“beautiful” missile launches at night) show with minimum results I would have done something like this. Was it a show, theatre. Art of the deal?

Then I asked myself: if this were a show, for whom was it a show and to what purpose? That led me to consider Trump’s biggest problem. It is that a significant portion of US “elite opinion” regards him – or pretends to regard him – as an illegitimate president. To bring him down, they tried recounts, appeals to “faithless electors“, the 25th Amendment; all failed.

All they were left with was the Russia story and that was being pumped out at full blast. Pumped out for months, since July in fact. Never mind the absence of evidence; it was pumped out ever louder and ever louder; pumped out to such an extent that it was hampering Trump’s program; his foreign program in particular but also his domestic program. It was amorphous and self-replicating at the same time. Did Putin secure Trump’s victory by hacking voting machinesby revealing DNC skulduggery… by some mysterious but never explained influence… by thousands of Putinbots spreading “fake news”… by broadcasts by RT and Sputnik which produce emanations that “undermine democracy“… were the Russians blackmailing him?

What exactly? Nothing that could be pinned down. Like trying to nail Jello to the wall. The allegations were vague, elusive, yet all-embracing. Nothing you could actually test. Shining the light of reason and fact on a particular detail was useless: the accusation skittered away into the shadows like a cockroach: voting machines, propaganda, influence, putinbots, association, something, nothing. But the sum effect, day after day, week after week, month after month, was that no one should take Trump seriously, no one needed to take him seriously, for he was Putin’s stooge and, sooner or later, would be forced from office. Soon gone. Not my president. It’s now April 2017 and this stuff has been festering away since the DNC cheating was revealed in July 2016. Nine months. It is not going to go away by itself. Neither is it going to go away for lack of evidence. It’s deeply embedded in the fantasy world (in this site’s universe, Clinton won) and too much has been invested in it.

In the real world, there is no rational way to stop the accusations.

59 cruise missiles later, all that has evaporated, Trump’s former critics are fawning and slobbering: “America is back, and you’re not allowed to do whatever you want” and “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” simpered two former critics. Generally popular – if only rather shallowly – too. No more Putin puppet. And so on – here is a compendium of drool. So, if the strike were a piece of theatre designed for domestic consumption, it hit the target. A “precision strike” indeed. (By the way, Scott Adams, who has read the Trumpian tea leaves very accurately, agrees that it was theatre.)

But the strike was of questionable morality and legality, to be sure; it was potentially dangerous and many argue that now that Trump has given in once to the War Party, he will find it harder to resist the next time. While it is true that supping with the Devil requires a long spoon, I think Trump has neutered his enemies. The next time there’s another (faked-up – and this attack was obviously not Damascus’ doing) event, he can call fake and what will they do then? Retract their fawning praise? Say he “became” President in April but “ceased” to be in July or August? Or (and I admit the probability of this is vanishingly small) when the truth does comes out, could Washington even apologise and pay compensation to the victims? If that were to happen – and I agree it would be a first – it would be a stunning blow to the War Party. In short, I don’t think the game is over and I don’t think the curtain has come down on the theatrical production.

What will Moscow’s reaction be? Well, if the theatre theory is correct, very little because Moscow was in on the deception to some extent. So, the test will be whether the incident is passed off with some minor harrumphing all round (the story of the Russian-Iranian “red line” is not true). We’ll have a better idea when the results of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Moscow visit emerge. Does Putin also believe it was theatre? Perhaps he does; this is what he said yesterday:

many European countries adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign. Syria and Russia, as a common enemy, provide a wonderful platform for consolidation.

Every decent theory must be falsifiable. I will agree that this theory – the theory that the US strike was really domestic theatre – would be falsified if the story, reactions, statements and so on keep building. We should know either way in a month.

But, so far so good: the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting yesterday passed off with minor harrumphing and none of the sanctions UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wanted. In fact the final 30-page communique managed to set a new record of logical incoherency by both blaming Damascus and calling for an inquiry to find out who was to blame:

We are shocked and horrified by the reports of use of chemical weapons in an airstrike in the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib on 4 April… The subsequent US military action against Shayrat Airfield was a carefully calibrated, limited in scope response to this warcrime and was directed against Syrian military targets directly connected… We express full support to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission investigation and stress that if the Fact Finding Mission concludes that chemical weapons have or have likely been used, the OPCW – UN Joint Investigative Mechanism should immediately carry out its investigation in accordance with its mandate to identify the perpetrators.

As to Washington’s touching concern about “crimes against innocents“, it is appropriate to note that one of the West’s favourite goto sites, the UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights and a much-quoted source for accusations that Damascus routinely uses CW, declared that the USA and its allies “killed 260 civilians, including 70 children and 34 women” in Syria last month. More than ISIS did, it says.

As to whether the attack will have much effect on Pyongyang (some think it was the real audience), I am inclined to doubt it. The national mythos in North Korea is resistance – resistance to the Japanese in the first half of the Twentieth Century and defiance of the USA and its allies in the second half; all firmly based on the memory of the ultimately successful resistance to Hideyoshi’s invasion in the 1500s. It seems unlikely that the leadership will be much impressed by anything Washington does this century. And, as this report suggests, it isn’t.

As to its effect on Beijing, again I suspect not very much: the Chinese leadership is neither as gullible nor as easily impressed as US media personalities. Beijing might decide that that trying to influence Pyongyang would be more cost effective than another Korean War; on the other hand, it might decide that a USA bogged down in an unwinnable war (just what would “victory” look like anyway?) would be to its advantage. We shall see.

But its effect on the talking heads and media never-Trumpers at home was profound.

Really Stupid Things Said About Russia

Moscow is being forced to play these aggressive and risky games out of desperation. The country is in bad shape and it is getting worse. [Not according to Bloomberg which says it’s out of the recession.] The once great superpower now has an economy smaller than Canada’s and it continues to shrink. [This is just stupid and a byproduct of exchange rates. Russia is one of the very few “full service” economies in the world. Canada is not one of those]. Even though they spend 5 per cent of their GDP on defence, Russia’s military forces have grown so rusted out they can barely get their last aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean and back without breaking down. [Even so, it got where it was going, did what it had to do, and got home again]. Even the ragtag Ukrainians have fought them to a standstill. [They wish – they’ve been beaten by a civilian militia]. Diplomatically, Moscow has never been so isolated and powerless. You can count its friends on one hand, and it’s not an impressive list: Syria, Iran, Belarus. [Oh, and China too.]

Russia’s coming attack on Canada by Scott Gilmore, MacLean’s, 8 March 2017.

[My comments]

US Senators Notice Soros

The letter from six Republican senators to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a rather interesting development. To many in the general public, Soros retains a reputation as a benign do-gooder but the Senators charge that the US Mission in Macedonia has “intervened in party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society” through USAID funds given to Soros’ foundation as one of the “implementing agencies”; they make mention of other interferences in other countries. They ask Tillerson to investigate and review these activities.

Whether this will lead anywhere remains to be seen – Soros’ organisations and American GONGOs are inextricably linked in regime change operations around the world – indeed the co-founder of the National Endowment for Democracy (“Funded largely by the U.S. Congress“) boasted in 1991 “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” Soros’ organisations are only one of the so-called independent vehicles that deliver these “spyless coups”.

But, despite their rather quaint objection to the supposed “left-leaning” bias of Soros’ activities – “left” and “right” is hardly the real issue here – their letter is a start at openly questioning Washington’s obsession with undermining and overthrowing governments it doesn’t like via the agency of so-called independent foundations.

The new Administration’s foreign policy mantra is supposed to be:

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

The Administration’s reaction to this letter will be a test. And, if another motive is needed, Soros has many connections to the anti-Trump movement and was a significant donor to the Clinton campaign.

So, the reaction will be interesting to watch.

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

The world now faces a choice between the cooperative exploitation by the East and West of natural resources or a wasteful struggle that could cost a fortune in blood and treasure. Regional conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia threaten to deny Western access to the vital oil and gas reserves the world will need in the 21st century. The wars in Chechnya, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in Georgia were started or exacerbated by the Russian military, and the outcome of these wars may determine who controls future pipeline routes. Moscow hopes that Russia will. Powerful interests in Moscow are attempting to ensure that the only route for exporting the energy resources of Eurasia will pass through Russia.

Ariel Cohen, Senior Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation “The New ‘Great Game’: Oil Politics in the Caucasus and Central Asia”; 25 January 1996.