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 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 West actually lost the Cold War: it turned victory into defeat

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. This particular one dates from February 2015. Some of my illustrations may be dated but there are always new ones being created: for Tsarnaevs read San Bernardino attack, for Merkel’s cell phone read Trump’s; Kyrzbekistan has been forgotten but the NYT isn’t sure what Aleppo is; Duterte and Le Pen are the new targets to attack. Putin Derangement Syndrome has reached absurd heights. The wars grind on. So, two years later, the “victory” is even farther away.

Peace brings riches; riches bring pride; pride brings anger; anger brings war; war brings poverty; poverty brings humanity; humanity brings peace.

Peace, as I have said, brings riches and so the world’s affairs go round

– Luigi da Porto, Sixteenth Century

A quarter of a century ago the Berlin Wall came down and the West “won the Cold War”. But a quarter of a century later, it’s hard to see what it won.

The arrogance – anger – the victory brought, has given the erstwhile winners the following disasters:

Wars without end: Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, ISIS. Each war leads to the next: overthrow Qaddafi, run guns into Syria, train up “moderate oppositionists” who soon join ISIS, whose leadership was created in US detention centres, which recruits more fighters from relatives of those blown up in drone attacks. Years of “security-building” in Iraq collapse in an instant. But, we’re assured, more bombing and more training will solve the problem. Forget that this strategy didn’t work the first time, we’ll just say it does: “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” No sooner had Obama finished saying this than Yemen blew up.

Billions and billions are spent on a Surveillance State that can’t stop the Tsarnaev brothers, even when it’s told where to look, but does know what’s on German Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone.

Human rights, once a concept with some content, is now just another another piece in the box of war toys: Qaddafi wasn’t “bombing his own people” but R2P was weaponised to overthrow him. Poroshenko is “bombing his own people” but R2P is kept in the box. Democracy and the other “Western values” we were so proud of in the 1990s have today been made into bedraggled camp followers trudging behind the Juggernaut of War.

A quick “regime change” in Ukraine to secure naval bases and weaken Russia becomes a nightmare of neo-nazis. war, destruction and chaos, with worse to come.

And, more: now Moscow fully understands that it is on Washington’s hit-list and Beijing knows that if Moscow can be brought down, it will be next. Washington’s latest regime change has pushed these two powers into an alliance. This is tremendously dangerous: even forgetting – if we can – that they are nuclear powers, Russia and China could collapse the Western economies any time they choose.

Putin can destroy NATO and the entire Western financial system whenever he wants. All he has to do is to announce that as NATO has declared economic war against Russia, Russia no longer sells energy to NATO members… To confront the exceptional, indispensable, unipower with the reality of its impotence, all China needs to do is to dump its massive dollar-denominated financial assets on the market, all at once…

Then there would be no need to debate who finally lost.

Some of the allies roped to the Juggernaut of War hesitate. Hungary chafes against the whip, Turkey may be quitting. The Czech President questions the Party Line. And now a new government in Greece appears out of nowhere to slow the Juggernaut. Greece! do the Obamoids even know where it is? Next door to Kyrzbekistan? Close to the Austrian-speaking world? Probably not one of the USA’s 58 states. The Juggernaut grinds on and the presstitutes obey the summons: Greece an “emerging hub for terrorists”, the President of the Czech Republic a “mouthpiece of Putin”, Putin, Orban and Erdogan a “band of brothers”. More enemies still and still more enemies.

Peace has brought the riches, the pride, the anger and now the war. Soon the poverty.

Daesh and CW

Quick response to a query from Sputnik about reports of a mustard attack on US troops attached to an Iraqi unit and what Washington should do.

Mustard and chlorine aren’t the same as Sarin. But as Aum Shinrikyo taught us, Sarin, of a deadly enough purity, can be made under rather primitive conditions. That’s one. Second, it is thought that Daesh got hold of some of the government’s stockpiles before they were destroyed. A third possible source is Libyan stocks. And a fourth is via Turkey. So the assertion that Daesh can’t have it is naive. That it won’t use it is naiver still.

The US should address the problem by giving up its wrong-headed and disastrous belief – held since the heyday of Fuller and Brzezinski in Afghanistan in the late 1970s – that it can turn jihadists on here but turn them off there. The jihadists have their own agenda and, as Putin asked: “So, it’s a big question: who’s playing whom here?”

In short, Washington must cooperate with those countries actually fighting Daesh. But, given that they include Syria, Iran and Russia, Washington is going to have to change a lot before it can.

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.

Why Russia Ran Rings Around the USA in the Obama Years

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.

Originally written in October 2015 but I don’t see much to change my opinion about. When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the West had it all – prestige, success, power, a winning example. It is astounding how much it has thrown away in the succeeding three decades.

Admittedly, there is a new Administration in the USA with new promises to mind its own business:

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.

Can Trump get the USA to stop its (wasteful, destructive, murderous and counterproductive) meddling and can he, as he has promised, find a better relationship with Russia? Can he emplace a better, more coherent, more intelligent, more focussed team than the arrogant incompetents of the last eight years? It is the biggest question today.

The anti-Russian hysteria gripping the chattering classes shows that Trump’s up against a lot of opposition.

But I don’t believe the story is over yet.

Despite its “failing economy“, “isolation“, “ancient weapons“, “instability” and all the other tired (and ageless: Russia was “failing” in 2005 and in 2000) tropes, time and time again, Moscow confounds, surprises and outmanoeuvres Washington. How does it do it?

Moscow has a competent team; Washington has ??? Putin, Medvedev, Ivanov, Shoygu, Lavrov. On the other side… well, you fill in the names. [Note Apr 2017: There is a new Administration and we will see what difference that makes.] The proof is that Russia has risen from a negligible position in 2000 to one that sets a lot of the agenda.

Moscow stays at home; Washington goes abroad. John Quincy Adams advised the young American republic not to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. But today…. US special forces deployed to 150 countries in the past three years; hundreds and hundreds of foreign military bases. Not even the most dedicated anti-Russia conspiricist could name 15 countries he thought Russian special forces had been deployed in nor more than a handful of foreign bases. And so, while Moscow sticks to its own interests, Washington sticks its interests into everything and everywhere.

Moscow is grounded in reality; Washington grounded in illusion. I don’t think we could have a better illustration than the two leaders’ speeches at the UNGA [in 2015]. In which, together with all the hypocritical piffle about “we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law”, “fidelity to international order”, “basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce”, “helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant” is the meat: “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.” As this writer put it, the schoolyard bully condemns bullying. Putin stuck to his themes of multilateralism (and so did Xi Jinping; something to be noticed: that’s two nuclear powers, two UNSC permanent seats and the first and fifth economies (World Bank, PPP) agreeing that “The future of the world must be shaped by all countries. All countries are equals.”). Putin asked “do you at least realize now what you’ve done?” and answered his question realistically “But I’m afraid that this question will remain unanswered, because they have never abandoned their policy, which is based on arrogance, exceptionalism and impunity.” And finally: “Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are. So, it’s a big question: who’s playing whom here?” Who, indeed? (One of the top ISIS commanders was trained by the US back when it was thought useful to have jihadists it “controlled” fighting Russia. Who was playing whom then?) But Obama’s still rearranging the li-los in cloud cuckoo land: Putin went into Syria out of weakness and he’s only got Syria and Iran while the USA has the rest of the world.

Moscow plans; Washington assumes. It seems that Israel got more than the brusque one-hour announcement the US received of the coming strikes. A coordination centre is operating in Baghdad. There are constant stories that China is on board (I don’t believe Debka’s reports that Chinese military assets are already there but China may well appear in some way). [Note Apr 2017: not militarily but it will likely play a part in rebuilding Syria]. Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and the Kurds are all on board. Obviously this was carefully planned over some time. In short, Putin & Co got their ducks in a row and moved very quickly. [Note Apr 2017: and so it continues]. Compare the light-hearted way in which the Ukraine disaster began: cookies and cell phone chats, the premature US Navy bid for Sevastopol, the silly confidence that it would be all wrapped up soon. To say nothing of the “surprising” fallout from the Libya and Iraq wars. Of course if the aim of Washington is to create chaos, as some wonder, then it has been all carefully thought out. And chaos it has.

Moscow has consistency; Washington has confusion. Take Syria for example. The Russian policy is to fight ISIS and its attachments; it supports Assad because it saw in Libya and Iraq that overthrowing the incumbent leads to worse. The only way to do this is by supporting the forces that are actually fighting ISIS on the ground. As well there is the principle that Assad is the recognised government of the country. And so Russia has forged agreements with the forces actually fighting ISIS. The US policy is to attack ISIS (but not very effectively) but also to attack Assad using its “four or five” moderate rebels. Oh, wait, you tell us there’s a CIA-trained group we haven’t heard about before somewhere? Or should Washington ally itself with Al-Qaeda? ISIS has a lot of US weapons: accident? Intention? some secret operation? who knows? No consistency or coherence there.

Moscow has a united team; what does the USA have? As I have written earlier, I suspect that the US intelligence community has been shut out of Washington’s decisions and now wants to clear itself of blame for the ever unrolling disaster. We won’t hear anything from Moscow like that; and it’s not because Putin’s a “dictator”.

So it’s not that complicated: competency, attention to first principles, reality, planning, consistency of purpose and unity of execution beats incompetency, interfering in everything everywhere, illusion, sloppy assumptions, confusion and disunity.

Is American Warfighting Doctrine Hardwired for Failure?

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.

NOTE 2017: I originally wrote this in February 2015; I haven’t seen anything in the last two years to make me change my mind. The, as Obama called it, “greatest military in the history of the world” is still no closer to “victory” – however you want to define that – in Afghanistan, Iraq or the innumerable other theatres of the GWOT. As to Russia’s warfighting doctrine, we can now add Syria to the Ossetian example mentioned below.

In my career, I never had much to do with the US Armed Forces in the field. Except once, in the early 1980s, when I saw the US Army on a big exercise in Germany and was pretty appalled. Lack of basic training, disorganisation, criminal behaviour (theft and the like), rogue units and an overall lack of military professionalism and competence. That was relatively soon after the Vietnam debacle and the US forces were at a nadir of their existence. Serious efforts were made (I saw a US unit commander summarily fired right then and there for incompetence) and the US forces are much, much better today.

My 35 year old observations serve only to illustrate that even armed forces with a good record can have bad periods after defeats. But armies improve – defeat is a good teacher – and the Americans have improved greatly since their defeat in Vietnam. Their operations in Iraq in 2003 were a masterpiece of logistical and operational perfection. No better illustration can be given than the fact that the Americans captured every single bridge. At every step of the operation, they were inside the Iraqi decision loop. Iraqi tanks were just targets.

But the Iraqi army was hardly a first class opponent and we cannot say that American forces have been up against first class opponents lately. And, if it takes 11 weeks to force little Serbia to give up, or over seven (seven!) months to overthrow Qaddafi, there must be some problem. To say nothing of Iraq or Afghanistan.

I can’t get two questions out of my mind:

When was the last time the USA won a war?

When was the last time US trained troops fought effectively?

Spectacularly successful at raining death and destruction in the first few weeks, something goes wrong later. Obviously there is something wrong in the way the USA fights wars. The expansion of political ends bears much responsibility for eventual failure. Consider, for a contrasting example, the 2008 Ossetia War. Russia had one clear aim and that was to roll back the Georgian attack. Postwar, its aim was to make another attack highly unlikely. It did the first quickly and assured the second by recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia and, under agreement, stationing troops there. Then Moscow stopped. There was no attempt to institute regime change in Tbilisi, to introduce Moscow’s notions of “democracy” or good government, to conquer Georgia, to turn it into a willing or unwilling ally or to attempt to satisfy any other grandiose desires. Moscow confined itself to the things that can be accomplished by violence and stopped when it had done them.

But what was the US/NATO war aim in Afghanistan? Knocking Taliban out of power – that was brilliantly accomplished, but then year after year of killing, dying and blowing things up to what purpose? Building schools? Giving women the vote? Afghanistan will never be a “Western democracy”. Whatever that is. (Neither would it have become a Soviet style “socialist state”, whatever that was). Knock over Saddam Hussein and destroy his forces? Brilliantly accomplished in short order. But then what? Again, Iraq will never be a “Western democracy”. And so the military achievement is squandered in pursuit of an ever receding chimera.

The fuzzy, but enormous, political aims tacked on after the first week or two destroy the soldiers’ victory. As Bismarck said, you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them. But Washington is always trying to sit, indeed trying to sleep comfortably, on them.

But it’s not just the ever expanding war aims that lead to defeat; I believe there is a problem at the heart of American warfighting doctrine. The early successes are based on assumptions that do not, over the long term, endure. It is precisely the initial success that encourages politicians to add the fuzzy political ambitions that lead, in their turn, to failure. The eventual failure is determined in the initial success.

I believe that this problem also answers the second question about the failure of US trained troops. We have just seen the Iraqi army that the US expended so much time and treasure training fold in front of ISIS warriors. The latest in a long string of failures. I believe that the answer to both questions is the same.

Air power and weapons.

Air power first. The US Armed Forces are used to operating in conditions in which almost every aircraft in the sky is friendly. Indeed, since the very first days of WWII, when have they ever had to fear air attack? And for decades now they have assumed, correctly, that every aircraft they see is friendly. They can go where they like confident that no one is tracking them from above, no one is sighting in on them from above and that, in trouble, they can call in tremendous destruction from the air. They kill their enemies – You Tube is full of videos – from the air without the enemy even knowing he’s taken his last breath. They operate confident that the enemy’s command and control system was destroyed in the first few days by air attack. And that, I believe, is the basic assumption of their warfighting doctrine – you never have to worry about what’s above you. And that’s what they – consciously or unconsciously – pass on to the armies they train. “If you get into trouble wait for the air to save you”. But you can only be certain of total air superiority against second or third class opponents. And only for a while: really determined opponents will figure out way to operate anyway.

Secondly, weapons. Americans believe that weapons win wars. And more sophisticated weapons win them faster and easier. But that’s not true. Obviously you need weapons to fight wars. Equally obviously Mongol cavalry with compound bows are at a severe disadvantage against Abrams tanks. But what really wins wars is fighting spirit, leadership, determination, organisation, adaptability. The moral factors. Mongol cavalry would soon learn to avoid the tanks and shoot the crews when they got out of them. And, indeed, we have seen this and the Pentagon ought to know it by now. Vietnam. Somalia. Iraq. Afghanistan. That’s enough, isn’t it, to prove my point? The determined little guy often beats the sophisticated big guy. Weapons are necessary, but they’re not sufficient. Senator John McCain believes that weapons are decisive and that’s why he wants the USA to send weapons to Ukraine. But first estimates say the rebels have captured 80 tanks, 100 other AFVs, 65 artillery systems and 500 tons of ammunition in Debaltsevo [in February 2015]. So, to arm Kiev is really, at the end of the day, to arm the rebels. Why? Simply because weapons are useless in feeble hands.

I leave aside the question of what would happen should the Americans come up against first class opponents and American aircraft start falling in dozens and American troops are subject to mass air attack. All with weapons which, while not perhaps quite as fancy as US ones, are rugged, adaptable and get the job done.

I won’t talk about careerism and ticket punching and what you need to do to be promoted in today’s American forces and the resulting quality of leadership. I don’t know anything about it and leave the reader to consider better informed pieces such as this one.

In short, I don’t think the Americans are nearly as good as they think they are – they’ve been spoiled by success (initial success that is) against second and third rate enemies which are swiftly overwhelmed by their air power and fancy weapons. Overwhelmed in the first few weeks; after that it’s different.

Maybe the US Armed Forces are a lot closer to what I saw in the early 1980s in Germany than is believed by the rah rah people in Washington.

NATO Would Probably Lose a War Against Russia

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.

NOTE 2017: I originally wrote this in December 2014; the resolution referred to is H.Res.758 — 113th Congress (2013-2014) against Russia’s “aggression”. If anything, more recent developments make my point even more strongly: Russia is more capable now than it was three years ago.

With the hyper-aggressive resolution just passed by the US House of Representatives we move closer to open war. Thus what follows may be apposite. In short, the US and NATO, accustomed to cheap and easy victories (at least in the short term – over the long term Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo are hardly victories), will have a shattering shock should they ever fight the Russian Armed Forces.

At the beginning of my career, in the 1970s, I spent some years engaged in combat simulations. Most of these exercises were for training staff officers but some were done in-house to test out some weapon or tactic. The scenario was usually the same: we, NATO, the good guys, Blue, would be deployed, usually in Germany; that is, on the eastern edge of West Germany. There we would be attacked by the Warsaw Pact, the bad guys, Red. (The colours, by the way, date from the very first war game, Kriegspiel; nothing to do with the Communist Party’s favourite colour).

Over several years of being on the control staff I noticed two things. Naturally both Red and Blue were played by our people, however interesting it might have been to borrow some Soviet officers to play Red. What always fascinated me was how quickly the people playing Red would start getting aggressive. Their fellow officers, on the Blue side, were very risk-averse, slow and cautious. The Red players just drove down the road and didn’t mind losing a tank, let alone a tank company. What was really interesting (we tested this in the office, so to speak) was that, at the end of the day, the full speed ahead approach produced fewer casualties than the cautious approach. The other thing – rather chilling this – was that Red always won. Always. And rather quickly.

I developed a great respect for the Soviet war-fighting doctrine. I don’t know whether it was based on traditional Russian doctrine but it certainly had been perfected in the Second World War where the Soviets carried out what are probably the largest land operations ever conducted. Nothing could be farther from the truth than the casual Western idea that the Soviets sent waves of men against the Germans until they ran out of ammunition and were trampled under the next wave. Once the Soviets got going, they were very good indeed.

The Soviet war-fighting doctrine that I saw in the exercises had several characteristics. The first thing that was clear is that the Soviets knew that people are killed in wars and that there is no place for wavering; hesitation loses the war and gets more people killed in the end. Secondly, success is reinforced and failure left to itself. “Viktor Suvorov”, a Soviet defector, wrote that he used to pose a problem to NATO officers. You have four battalions, three attacking and one in reserve; the battalion on the left has broken through easily, the one in the middle can break through with a little more effort, the one on the right is stopped. Which one do you reinforce with your reserve battalion? He claimed that no NATO officer ever gave the correct answer. Which was, forget the middle and right battalions, reinforce success; the fourth battalion goes to help the lefthand one and, furthermore, you take away the artillery support from the other two and give it to the battalion on the left. Soviet war-fighting doctrine divided their forces into echelons, or waves. In the case above, not only would the fourth battalion go to support the lefthand battalion but the followup regiments would be sent there too. Breakthroughs are reinforced and exploited with stunning speed and force. General von Mellenthin speaks of this in his book Panzer Battles when he says that any Soviet river crossing must be attacked immediately with whatever the defender has; any delay brings more and more Soviet soldiers swimming, wading or floating across. They reinforce success no matter what. The third point was the tremendous amount of high explosives that Soviet artillery could drop on a position. In this respect, the BM-21 Grad was a particular standout, but they had plenty of guns as well.

An especially important point, given a common US and NATO assumption, is that the Soviets did not assume that they would always have total air superiority. The biggest hole, in my opinion, of US and NATO war-fighting doctrine is this assumption. US tactics often seem to be little more than the instruction to wait for the air to get the ground forces out of trouble (maybe that’s why US-trained forces do so poorly against determined foes). Indeed, when did the Americans ever have to fight without total air superiority other than, perhaps, their very first experience in World War II? The Western Allies in Italy, at D-day and Normandy and the subsequent fighting could operate confident that almost every aircraft in the sky was theirs. This confident arrogance has, if anything, grown stronger since then with short wars in which the aircraft all come home. The Soviets never had this luxury – they always knew they would have to fight for air superiority and would have to operate in conditions where they didn’t have it. And, see General Chuikov’s tactic at Stalingrad of “hugging the enemy”, they devised tactics that minimized the effectiveness of enemy aircraft. The Russians forces have not forgotten that lesson today and that is probably why their air defence is so good.

NATO commanders will be in for a shattering shock when their aircraft start falling in quantity and the casualties swiftly mount into the thousands and thousands. After all, we are told that the Kiev forces lost two thirds of their military equipment against fighters with a fraction of Russia’s assets, but with the same fighting style.

But, getting back to the scenarios of the Cold War. Defending NATO forces would be hit by an unimaginably savage artillery attack, with, through the dust, a huge force of attackers pushing on. The NATO units that repelled their attackers would find a momentary peace on their part of the battlefield while the ones pushed back would immediately be attacked by fresh forces three times the size of the first ones and even heavier bombardments. The situation would become desperate very quickly.

No wonder they always won and no wonder the NATO officer playing Red, following the simple instructions of push ahead resolutely, reinforce success, use all your artillery all the time, would win the day.

I don’t wish to be thought to be saying that the Soviets would have “got to the the English Channel in 48 hours” as the naysayers were fond of warning. In fact, the Soviets had a significant Achilles Heel. In the rear of all this would have been an unimaginably large traffic jam. Follow-up echelons running their engines while commanders tried to figure out where they should be sent, thousands of trucks carrying fuel and ammunition waiting to cross bridges, giant artillery parks, concentrations of engineering equipment never quite in the right place at the right time. And more arriving every moment. A ground-attack pilot’s dream. The NATO Air-Land Battle doctrine being developed would have gone some distance to even things up again. But it would have been a tremendously destructive war, even forgetting the nuclear weapons (which would also be somewhere in the traffic jam).

As for the Soviets on the defence, (something we didn’t game because NATO, in those days, was a defensive alliance) the Battle of Kursk is probably the model still taught today: hold the attack with layer after layer of defences, then, at the right moment, the overwhelming attack at the weak spot. The classic attack model is probably Autumn Storm.

All of this rugged and battle proven doctrine and methodology is somewhere in the Russian Army today. We didn’t see it in the first Chechen War – only overconfidence and incompetence. Some of it in the Second Chechen War. More of it in the Ossetia War. They’re getting it back. And they are exercising it all the time.

Light-hearted people in NATO or elsewhere should never forget that it’s a war-fighting doctrine that does not require absolute air superiority to succeed and knows that there are no cheap victories. It’s also a very, very successful one with many victories to its credit. (Yes, they lost in Afghanistan but the West didn’t do any better.)

I seriously doubt that NATO has anything to compare: quick air campaigns against third-rate enemies yes. This sort of thing, not so much.

Even if, somehow, the nukes are kept in the box.

To quote Field Marshal Montgomery “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow’. Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good. That is the first rule.”

(His second rule, by the way, was: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.” As Washington’s policy drives Moscow and Beijing closer together…. But that is another subject).

Trump-Putin phone call

Question from Sputnik asking for thoughts on the phone call and what the two can do in Syria.

The White House “readout” of the call says it was a “significant start to improving the relationship” and both are hopeful that “the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.” The Kremlin account is more detailed and speaks of hopes to improve “cooperation on a constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis”. The discussion touched on the Middle East, strategic stability, Iran, Korean Peninsula and Ukraine. But the big topic was “joining efforts in fighting the main threat” of “international terrorism”.

The call – one of several Trump made that day – took about an hour; therefore, allowing for interpreters, each president had about 15 minutes. Thus there was only enough time to communicate intentions and list problems. Therefore, only a beginning.

As to cooperation in Syria we have two stories going the rounds. One, from the Russian Armed Forces, that the US forces passed target data to them and – after checking: there’s still a distance to go before trust is assumed – Russian aircraft struck the targets. I would expect that the US military will be pleased enough to cooperate – there are already reports that US trainers know perfectly well that they are just training “the next generation of jihadis“. The other story, at the level of plausible rumour, is that Representative Gabbard took a message from Trump to Assad that US policy had changed and that “Assad must go!” was no more. Certainly Trump has in the past shown that he knows what’s really going on in Syria. And one should not forget what Flynn would have told him about the origins of ISIS/Daesh. So there is real hope that the US will stop arming and assisting ISIS/DAESH: a necessary step indeed.

Thus, there is much possibility for US-Russia cooperation in Syria.

But it’s only a start and there more to be done. But it is a good start.

Trump Day One

My interest, as a non-American, is, first and foremost, in Washington’s future foreign policy (which really means, these days, war – there hasn’t been much of anything else this century). As I wrote four months ago “To me, the choice in the US election is utterly simple: the most important thing is stopping the perpetual wars of the New American Century.” I believed then and believe more strongly today that US President Trump carries the hope that this will be so.

His inaugural address reinforces my belief. It was overwhelming directed towards rebuilding and repairing. His diagnosis: “a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost”; his theme: “a nation exists to serve its citizens”; his promise: “the oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans”. Whether he can deliver will be a matter for great speculation (most of it, amusingly, by the same people who so completely failed to understand the campaign) and wonderment. While we have learned that contemporary US Presidents can start wars ad libitum, it is less certain that they can build “roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways” or end the “American carnage”. But that is of more concern to Americans than to the rest of us.

The world knows America today almost entirely though destruction: to thousands and thousands today America is a drone strike, the bringer of random death, Abaddon.

But President Trump can avoid starting more wars and can end present wars. As he has implied he will, many times. The theme of his approach to foreign relations is this:

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.

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

The understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first“; when did we last hear an American President promise that? Indeed the theme of the Twenty-First Century has been that only “Exceptional America” has important interests. From a former Vice-President: “the most powerful, good and noble country in the history of mankind“; from a former President: “I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness… to stand up, not only for our own interests, but for the interests of all.” What other nation’s puny, erroneous and mundane interest can possibly stand against such glory, righteousness and sanctity?

President Trump echoes President Adams two centuries later:

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….

In becoming the dictatress of the world, the United States has indeed lost the rule of her own spirit and her liberty has changed to force. Trump’s “benignant sympathy of her example” is

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.

Much to hope for after the catastrophes, cataclysms and carnage the Exceptionalists have wreaked on us during the last decade and a half.

Shining instead of bombing.

Trump, Tillerson, Russia

(Question from Sputnik on What can we expect from Rex Tillerson as secretary of state?)

I’m sure that we can all agree that the first step towards a good foreign policy is the acknowledgement of reality. The second step would be the acknowledgement of failure and Trump seems to be there already: “we will pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past“.

Well, one of the “mistakes of the past” is Washington’s Russia policy.

Rex Tillerson seems to be open to the idea of Washington treating Moscow like a fellow inhabitant of the planet whose opinion deserves to be considered. Considered seriously. Which would be a good thing, because 1) Moscow actually is all that (plus nukes) and 2) because that would make a pleasant change in Washington’s behaviour (and not just to Moscow) from previous instaurations.

But seriously, (very seriously), if Trump can get the Russia-USA relationship right – and that requires a serious consideration of, respect for and listening to Moscow’s point of view – then a lot of the United States’ other international entanglements would sort themselves out pretty quickly.

Then, with a quieter world out there, Trump could concentrate on his real purpose of getting the USA working again.

In fact, he and Putin have a common aim which is getting their countries sorted out. The two have common problems (although Putin is a couple of decades ahead on the realisation curve): unemployment, loss of manufacturing capacity, desperation and loss, failing wars, general disaffection, and (very recently for the US) dropping life expectancy.

They’re both in the same business as it happens: making America/Russia great (for their citizens) again.

(PS none of this “greatness” involves blowing up people around the globe for random reasons. Which the USA has been doing quite a lot of this century.)