A NEW YEAR’S FANTASY

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind

– Edward Gibbon

Counterfactual history is generally a waste of time because, in the end, it’s just speculation. But it’s fun and it can sometimes illuminate factual history.

For example, take the aborted Soviet-French-British alliance to stop Hitler. It came to nothing for a number of reasons but, had it happened, history would have been very different. (And – dare I say it? – probably better. And not the least of the benefits would be that we would be freed from the endless appeals to “Munich” to encourage us to stand firm and bomb the “Next Hitler”.) But I am not going to explore that counterfactual history in which the UK, USSR and France got together, Poland was convinced to let a million Soviet soldiers in and the German military, seeing the hopelessness of it all, overthrew Hitler and the future followed a different set of possibilities (Poland probably being occupied each time).

I am going to consider a counter-factual post Cold War history. Not because I believe – cynical as I have now become – that there was much of a chance of triumphalist Washington, in thrall to PNAC fantasies, allowing it to happen; I do it to illuminate some of the mess that we are in today.

After the Second World War, Stalin, either because he was a dedicated expansionist enemy of the West or because he was determined that, the next time, invaders would have to start their attack farther away from Moscow, absorbed most of the countries the Soviet Army captured/liberated. Communists – and each country had plenty – were put into power. (I invite the reader to speculate: they were absorbed but which was his true motive?) After the Washington Treaty, Moscow formed the Warsaw Treaty. But while the former was, more or less, voluntary, the latter was not and, the moment the USSR weakened, everybody wanted out. Mikhail Gorbachev, GenSek in 1985, began glasnost and perestroyka, believing that the USSR as it was had exhausted its possibilities; one thing led to another, the Berlin Wall came down, the Warsaw Treaty organisation collapsed: when the USSR’s “allies” realised the tanks weren’t coming, they jumped. The USSR itself then fell apart and a whole new world was there for the making.

This is what happened, now begins my counterfactual speculation.

The Western (=NATO) capitals – none of which had foreseen these events – get together and think about how to profit from the collapse of their enemy and how to build a more secure world. A world that is not just better for themselves but more secure for everybody because the wise people in NATO understand that they cannot be secure if their neighbours are not: they know that security is indivisible.

The wise men and women of NATO ponder – it is their world-historical moment; they will create tomorrow. Alternate futures pass before their eyes, they have the power to choose one and eliminate the others; they will pick, out of all the possibilities, the one road the world will travel. Their challenge, now that a great war has ended, is how to fashion a wise ending to the struggle. Not a triumphant ending but a wise one; not just for us but for our descendants. Not momentary but enduring; not a quick sugar hit but lasting nutrition. Many roads to failure; only a few to success.

They take their place with modesty: while, naturally believing that their “free world” system was and is preferable to Marxism-Leninism, they are wise enough and modest enough to know that reality comes in shades of grey. No triumphalism here: just the pragmatic desire to build stability and peace. No boasting: just an acknowledgement that both sides have won.

They remember other decision points when a few created the future. The French Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars killed and maimed millions and devastated and squandered wealth throughout Europe. The easy end would have been to blame France and try to squash it for all time. But the victors – Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria – were wiser: they included France in the settlement; and their settlement avoided a great European war for a century. They knew that France would always be an important player and therefore had to be invested in the settlement. If it weren’t invested in the settlement it would be invested in breaking the settlement. It’s the essence of The Deal: everybody gets something and everybody has an interest in keeping things the way they are. When no one wants to tip it over, you have stability. The victors of 1919 forgot this principle and their settlement collapsed into an even worse war in twenty years. The victors of that war remembered the 1814 principle (partially) and integrated Germany, Italy and Japan into the winners’ circle.

The wise ones of NATO know this history; they know that the losers have to be made into winners so that the peace can have a chance of lasting; they remember the terrible example of the 1919 failure. There’s no place for boasting or triumphantasising. They bend their powerful minds in the Great Peace Conference of 1991 (counterfactual fantasy event) to calculate how to accommodate everybody’s security concerns. They know that security is indivisible: if one doesn’t feel secure then, sooner or later, no one will.

They start with two realities: 1) Moscow’s former allies – or at least their current leaders – hate and fear Moscow and 2) Moscow doesn’t trust NATO. The Wise Ones waste no time moralising, they know these are the materials with which they have to work and have to make to fit together.

Expand NATO? No, say the Wise Ones: while it will please people in Warsaw or Prague (at least until they get the bill), it will make Moscow nervous and that violates the principle of indivisible security. If making Warsaw happy makes Moscow unhappy, then, at the end of the day, they will both be unhappy and, if they’re both are unhappy, then we will all be unhappy too. Indivisibility of security is the kernel of wisdom that the Wise Ones hold to. If nobody is unhappy then everybody is happy: it’s the geopolitical version of “happy wife, happy life”.

So, the question is this: how do we make a settlement to the Cold War in which NATO, the former Warsaw Treaty, former-USSR and Moscow all feel secure at the same time? Fortunately, at this unrepeatable moment in world history, the NATO leadership is replete with wise, knowledgeable and thoughtful people, well-informed about past errors, determined to do better, with the vision, modesty and ingenuity to square the circle. (I warned you it was counterfactual). They figure it out:

  1. They tell Warsaw, Prague, Kiev and the rest of them to form an alliance (Central European Treaty Organisation or some such name) grounded on NATO’s Article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all).
  2. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from NATO that, should Russia attack any member of the Central European Treaty Organisation, NATO will come to its defence.
  3. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from Moscow that should NATO attack any member of the CETO, Moscow will come to its defence.

So, between NATO and Russia, there would have been a belt of neither-one-nor-the-other-but-guaranteed-by-both countries. CETO would have lots of weapons and a high degree of interoperability and command structure left over from the Soviet days; therefore they would be able to mount quite effective defences with what they already had. Their weapons, being Soviet and very rugged, would work for years to come so they wouldn’t have to spend much on their defence.

(Note that, we have, as a sort of scale model of something like this, the relationship between Malta and Italy. From 1981 Malta is officially neutral and its neutrality is guaranteed by Italy, a NATO member. The USSR recognised this neutrality soon after.)

If a CETO had been formed, guaranteed by NATO and Russia, wouldn’t everybody be 1) happier and 2) more secure?

But that didn’t happen. We all know what did: the men and women of NATO were not so wise, they missed their world-historical moment and they went for the triumphantasising quick sugar hit.

So I wish you all a happy

New Year

in which you may reflect upon what might have been

but wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY YEARS LATER – WHAT PUTIN FORGOT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

This site has just published my assessment of what Putin (and his team) got right in the program laid out, twenty years ago, in his essay “Russia at the turn of the millennium”. I concluded that he outlined four main projects: 1) Improve the economy. 2) Re-establish central control. 3) Establish a rule of law. 4) Improve Russia’s position in the world. I assessed that he accomplished three of them triumphantly and one reasonably well.

But, re-reading the essay, I noticed something that he did not mention. A something that in the twenty years has become rather important. Here is his only mention in the essay of that thing.

Russia was and will remain a great power.. It is preconditioned by the inseparable characteristics of its geopolitical, economic and cultural existence. They determined the mentality of Russians and the policy of the government throughout the history of Russia and they cannot but do so at present. But Russian mentality should be expanded by new ideas. In the present world the might of a country as a great power is manifested more in its ability to be the leader in creating and using advanced technologies, ensuring a high level of people’s wellbeing, reliably protecting its security and upholding its national interests in the international arena, than in its military strength.

Once. That’s it. That’s the only time “military strength” is mentioned and it is mentioned disparagingly: other things – technologies, wellbeing, diplomacy – are more important in this new world of the Twenty-first Century as Putin then saw it.

There is, in fact, almost nothing in the essay about the outside world and therefore little from which to deduce Putin’s expectations of how his program would be received. At one point he writes that Russia, after the dead end of the Soviet years, “has entered the highway by which the whole of humanity is travelling”, in another that an important aim is to “integrate the Russian economy into world economic structures”. This sounds as if he either expected Russia to be welcomed into these structures or that its arrival on the highway would, at least, not be impeded.

But, in one of his first interviews to a foreign source, a German newspaper in June 2000, the outside world made it presence known in three issues – the US flouting of the ABM Treaty, US missiles in Europe and NATO expansion. A year later an interview with American reporters (JRL 20 Jun 2001) is almost completely given over to American plans to place ballistic missile defences in Europe. In short, he wasn’t at his new job very long before his daily schedule started to have a large foreign component. And, from his perspective, all problems. We see in these first interviews points that Putin will return to over and over again in the coming years. He doubts that the Bush-era ABM systems have much to do with “rogue states”; he regards the ABM Treaty as vital to nuclear stability; he objects to the expansion of NATO. But most of all, he talks of a multipolar world, or as some call it a “Westphalian” system, of sovereign countries. This, he argues, again and again, is the only route to peace and stability. These themes feature in almost every speech on foreign issues he has made since. Given weight by the knowledge that Moscow wasted 70 years on the exceptionalist, moralistic path – a dead end as he said in his millennium essay.

So if, as the essay suggests, Putin was expecting the mostly domestic task of reconstructing Russia – “the price which we have to pay for the economy we inherited from the Soviet Union” – to proceed with a benign reaction from the outside world, he was soon disabused of the notion. The West, for all its honeyed words, was taking advantage of Russia’s weakness.

In short, he forgot the saying attributed to the Emperor Alexander III thatRussia has only two allies – its Army and its Navy”.

Eventually missiles were emplaced in Europe, the ABM Treaty and two of the other keystone arms control treaties were abandoned and NATO kept expanding. And much else. By February 2007 Putin had had enough and said so in the famous Munich Conference speech. The essence of his speech – and who today can deny its prescience? – is that that “security for one is security for all”. He proclaimed the unipolar world dead – as it has become. He decried the ignoring of international law; today there isn’t even the pretence: keep their oil, Bolivia coup. He pointed out the broken promise about NATO expansion – no longer can it be denied. He never quite gives up hope: who can forget his question, referring to the mess in the Middle East caused by Washington and its minions (September 2015): “I’m urged to ask those who created this situation: do you at least realize now what you’ve done?” or (October 2016) “I address the players once again: The extremists in this case are more cunning, clever and stronger than you, and if you play these games with them, you will always lose.

So, at some point between 1999 with the millennium essay and the Munich speech of 2007, Putin realised that the reconstruction of Russia would have to proceed in a hostile atmosphere; Washington and its allies did not want a strong Russia as a partner or or even as peaceful competitor: they wanted the Russia of 1999 – poor, divided, lawless and insignificant. Or perhaps his turning point was NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2015. Or when Washington did kill the ABM Treaty in 2002. Most likely, though, it was a gradual process by which Putin and his team realised they had to look to Alexander’s allies.

And they did. They warned – Putin told the American reporters in 2001 “We are offering cooperation. If that is acceptable, we will do this with pleasure. If not, then we will act independently” – and, quietly, they did.

In March 2018 he showed the Federal Assembly and the world what the Team had been working on. A final reminder:

We proposed working together in this area [prolonging the ABM Treaty – ‘the cornerstone of the international security system’] to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust. At one point, I thought that a compromise was possible, but this was not to be. All our proposals, absolutely all of them, were rejected. And then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike systems to protect our security.

Six new super weapons: the Sarmat ICBM, Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile, Poseidon nuclear powered underwater cruise missile, Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched missile, Avangard hypersonic manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle and the Peresvet combat laser. He warned:

Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium or any range at all, will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences.

He couldn’t resist adding “nobody wanted to listen to us. So listen now.” They scoffed: just virtual reality. But they’re not; US inspectors have been shown the Avangard which, with its ability to hit anywhere in less than half an hour, ends the US dream of antiballistic missile defence. The two cruise missiles present a unprecedented threat – lurking over Antarctica or in the ocean deeps for months ready to strike? A volley of Kinzhals coming in at Mach ten will obliterate any carrier group or staging harbour or base in Europe. Checkmate.

But there’s more: great advances have been made on conventional defence as well. As I argue here, the Putin Team understood that the two essentials of NATO’s war-fighting doctrine are air superiority and assured communications. They won’t have them against Russia. The First Guards Tank Army has been revived and far exceeds anything that NATO has in offensive power. NATO has been writing NSF cheques for years and Moscow has called its bluff.

So, eventually, the Putin Team did take Alexander’s advice. Russia’s army and navy and air force have probably made Russia more secure against attack than at any time since his Great Uncle entered his capital in triumph two years after Napoleon’s attack or when Marshal Zhukov accepted the enemy’s surrender in his capital four years after Hitler’s attack.

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And, as an afterword, at Munich Putin said this:

It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

Do we not see this today? The USA is tearing itself apart over imagined Russian collusion, imagined Russian electoral interference and real Ukrainian corruption. And, meanwhile, the forever wars go on and on.

TWENTY YEARS LATER – HOW DID PUTIN DO?

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation picked up by JRL, Greanville Post, The Liberty Beacon, Technical Politics, Covert Geopolitics, Astute News, Europe Reloaded, The Falling Darkness,

(NOTE: Thanks to Veleslav Grivov who pointed out that in my World Bank figures below, the billions should be trillions and the millions billions. Too many zeroes for me!)

Twenty years ago a not very well-known Vladimir Putin published an essay “Russia at the turn of the millennium”. It was printed in Nezavisimaya Gazeta and at the Russian government website. The only copy that I can find on the Net in English now is here but I will be referring to the official English translation and Russian text that I downloaded at the time.

Putin had been Prime Minister for about five months and, when Yeltsin resigned the day after the publication of this essay, he became Acting President. Since that day his team has been running Russia. It is reasonable to regard this essay as his program and, on its twenty-year anniversary, appropriate to see how well he (and his team – it’s not a one-man operation) have done.

I concluded that he outlined four main projects:

  • Improve the economy.

  • Re-establish central control.

  • Establish a rule of law.

  • Improve Russia’s position in the world.

Putin took power at a time when people were seriously saying Russia is Finished. And, however silly this may look now when we are hysterically told every day that “Putin’s Russia” is infiltrating, controlling, interfering, attacking, hacking, conquering, violating, cheating it is worth running over what the author said. Assassinations, mafiya, corruption, kryshas, oligarchs, unpaid salaries, military collapse: “the Russians are likely to face a long, slow, relatively peaceful decline into obscurity – a process that is well under way”. The author acknowledged the changing of the guard – the piece was published in May 2000 – but believed Putin was picked only because he had the “security connections to protect” Yeltsin’s entourage; he was just another centraliser building a personality cult in “Zaire With Permafrost.”

The author – like almost everyone else – got Putin wrong but generally he was describing the reality of Russia in 2000. It was a mess. In Putin’s own words last June:

But I must note that during that time our social sphere, industry and the defence sector collapsed. We lost the defence industry, we practically destroyed the Armed Forces, led the country into a civil war, to bloodshed in the Caucasus, and brought the country to the verge of losing sovereignty and collapse.

As far as I know, most Western intelligence agencies (but not the one I was involved with) would have agreed with his prediction that Russia was, inevitably, going down to “obscurity”. The fear then was of chaos – rogue generals, nuclear weapons gone missing (remember suitcase nukes, “red mercury“?): Russia’s weakness was the threat, not its strength. We appreciated how badly off Russia was but also knew that Russia in its thousand years has often been down but never out. We also knew that there was more to Putin than the absurdities that were said about him of which I especially remember this:

Psychiatry recognizes a condition known as ‘moral idiocy’. Every time he opens his mouth in public, Putin confirms this diagnosis for himself.

In my group we took note that he had been the trusted disciple of Anatoliy Sobchak who was, in the terminology of the time, a “reformer” and therefore a “good Russian”. We had also read the millennium paper and saw the program. I am not pretending that, in 1999, I or my colleagues expected him to do all this but at least we saw the possibilities. We, as it were, saw a half full glass where others saw a glass quickly emptying.

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

He and his team were trying to make Russia prosperous, united, law-governed and internationally significant. A formidable program from the perspective of 1999 to be sure. How well have they done?

Taking the economy first. One of the famous quotations from the millennium paper was this:

It will take us approximately fifteen years and an annual growth of our Gross Domestic Product by 8 percent a year to reach the per capita GDP level of present-day Portugal or Spain,

That mission has been accomplished and much more than merely accomplished. According to the World Bank Russia’s GDP in purchasing power parity in 2018 (4.0 billion trillion) was nearly 12 times as high as Portugal’s (339 million billion) and twice Spain’s (1.8 billion trillion). It was in fact larger than France’s (3.0 billion trillion) or the UK’s (3.0 billion trillion), two other countries he mentioned. (By comparison, China 25 billion trillion and USA 20 billion trillion). Valuations of Russia’s GDP in US dollars contradict reality: as I have argued elsewhere, Russia’s economy is in fact full-service and it is one of four potential autarkies on the planet. And, the way things are going, it won’t become any less so: as Awara points out it is one of the most independent economies in the world, well positioned to survive a world recession. While individual Russians could certainly be richer, the improvement from the desperate situation in 2000 is extraordinary. Ironically, Western sanctions (and Moscow’s adroit response) have strengthened the Russian economy; as Putin said in his last direct line program:

Look, if ten years ago I or anyone else in this hall had been told that we would be exporting agricultural products worth $25.7 billion, like we did last year, I would have laughed in the face of the person who said this.

An outstanding success.

The second point was re-centralising power. In 2000 there were concerns that the federation might break up: the CIA in 2004 (has there ever been an organisation with a worse track record of Russia predictions?) thought it could break into as many as eight different parts by 2015. Many of the “subjects of the federation” had negotiated sovereignty pacts with Moscow and, as of 2000, Chechnya was effectively independent. So, in fact, the CIA’s prediction was not, of itself, idiotic but it assumed a temporary weakness to be a permanent condition: a longer view of Russia’s track record shows weak periods but it always comes back. As Putin said in the millennium paper:

For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly which should be got rid of. Quite the contrary, they see it as a source and guarantor of order and the initiator and main driving force of any change.

Russia is a civilisation statePresident Macron’s expression – Europe by contrast has always been a series of (quarrelling) independent states. For much of the time, the state – the King’s power – was something to be resisted or limited. Russia, on the other hand, during its “prey-fish” period, learned to value the state as the guarantor of its existence. And so, to Russians, state power is much more important than it is to most Europeans. Western commentators have to understand this or else they look like fools to Russians: Russians think centralisation is good, they respect state power, not slavishly as Western prejudice would have it, but because Russia has fought for its existence too many times for them to want to risk anarchy. Putin and his team have re-established state power; that someone like David Satter thinks Putin is a dictator or the Western media calls his elections fake, matters nothing to Russians. Russia exists again and it’s full of Russians. A rather interesting illustration can be seen in this video when the Chechen MP in Syria says we are all Russians. The Russian language has two words that would be translated as “Russian”: one for ethnic Russians, the other for citizens of the country. A Chechen can’t be the first (and wouldn’t want to be) but he can be proud of being the second. Again, we have to agree that the Putin Team achieved its second aim.

The third aim was rule of law. And here assessment is on more uncertain grounds. The first question to ask is whether any country actually does have a “rule of law”. Britain is holding Assange in jail on rape charges jumping bail… what charges? What exactly did Maria Butina do? Why did Canada seize a Chinese executive? Whataboutism they call this but it establishes the base of reality – all countries have corruption, all countries have one law for the powerful and another for the weak; it’s not absolute, it’s a matter of degree. Certainly, by any standards, twenty years ago Russia was very lawless; how lawless is it today and how successful has the Team been? I don’t know know of any good study on the matter – I don’t take Transparency International seriously: Ukraine less corrupt than Russia? – but it does appear that things are much better than they were. Certainly we hear very little about businesses needing criminals’ protection today and Russia’s ranking on ease of doing business is continually improving and is respectable today. This guide indicates some remaining problems but generally assumes that it’s possible for foreigners to do business there as does this guide. Recently we learned that “Nearly one in six Russian mayors have faced criminal prosecution over the past decade” which is either evidence of a lot of corruption or a lot of success combatting it. The construction of a new cosmodrome has involved much theft but other mega projects – like the Crimea Bridge or the new Moscow-St Petersburg highway – seem to have been carried out with little. A balanced (and sourced) piece argues that there has been considerable improvement in the rights of the accused in the twenty years. But a frequent complaint in Putin’s Q&A sessions are over-zealous officials destroying businesses – perhaps for venal purposes. So a cautious conclusion would suggest that the two decades have seen a reduction in criminality and an improvement in rule of law. How much of each is debatable and the argument is not helped by tendentious pieces asserting that the imitation of the American foreign agents law was “a landmark on the journey towards the end of the rule of law in modern-day Russia.” So some success in this aim but some distance to go still.

The fourth aim was to improve Russia’s standing in the world. Here another enormous turnaround is seen – even if not much to the liking of those who ruled the world in 2000. There’s no need to spell it out – despite the West’s efforts to isolate and weaken Russia, Putin is a welcome visitor in many places. The delirium over Russia’s imagined influence and control proves that it is hardly “decline[d] into obscurity”. Moscow’s status is, of course, especially recognised in Beijing where the Russia-China alliance grows stronger day by day. When we see the NYT, after years of “Trump and Putin: A Love Story“, solemnly opining “President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China” or President Macron suggesting that Russia shouldn’t want to be “a minority ally of China” we see the belated realisation that twenty years’ of pushing around an “insignificant” Russia has not turned out so happily for the pushers. The NYT and Macron are too late: why would Moscow or Beijing ever trust the West again? Meanwhile Moscow manages to have, for example, good relations with Iran, Iraq and Syria as well as with Saudi Arabia and Israel; quite a contrast with Washington and much of the West.

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

So, in conclusion, twenty years later the program has been very successful.

Improve economy? Yes, dramatically, extra marks.

Re-centralise control? Yes, full marks.

Rule of law? Considerable progress, part marks.

Improve Russia’s role in the world? Yes, dramatically, extra marks.

The West resents this achievement and has been in an economic (sanctions) and diplomatic (ditto) war with Russia. But, many would argue, that the only Russia the West has ever liked is a weak one (except, of course, in times of war against Napoleon, the Kaiser or Hitler); enmity is a given and the only way the West would like Russia would be if the Putin Team had failed and it had remained, poor, divided, lawless and insignificant.

A remarkably successful achievement; not accomplished by accident or luck: a good plan, intelligently and flexibly carried out.

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

As an afterword, given the repetitive scare stories about the return of Stalin, here’s what Putin said about the Soviet period (Note: this is the official English translation; it takes some liberties with the original but is true to the spirit).

For almost three-fourths of the outgoing century Russia lived under the sign of the implementation of the communist doctrine. It would be a mistake not to see and, even more so, to deny the unquestionable achievements of those times. But it would be an even bigger mistake not to realise the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for that Bolshevist experiment. What is more, it would be a mistake not to understand its historic futility. Communism and the power of Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. Communism vividly demonstrated its inaptitude for sound self-development, dooming our country to a steady lag behind economically advanced countries. It was a road to a blind alley, which is far away from the mainstream of civilisation.

Почти три четверти уходящего столетия Россия жила под знаком реализации коммунистической доктрины. Было бы ошибкой не видеть, а тем более отрицать несомненные достижения того времени. Но было бы еще большей ошибкой не сознавать той огромной цены, которую заплатили общество, народ в ходе этого социального эксперимента. Главное же, пожалуй, в том, что власть Советов не сделала страну процветающей, общество -динамично развивающимся, человека – свободным. Более того, идеологизированный подход к экономике обрек нашу страну на неуклонное отставание от развитых государств. Как ни горько признаваться в этом, но почти семь десятилетий мы двигались по тупиковому маршруту движения, который проходил в стороне от столбовой дороги цивилизации.

Hardly an endorsement is it?

SULEIMANI ASSASSINATION

Answer to question from Sputnik

Three pretty likely consequences: Washington has begun its last foreign war and Trump’s future is in Tehran’s hands. Iran’s reaction will completely surprise Washington for the simple reason that smart people are smarter than stupid arrogant ignorant people.

Some questions:
Given that a large number of Israelis have dual citizenship, how many will stay when the rockets start to fall?
What will Washington do when (not if) the Iraqi government orders all US troops out?
But, it’s not August 1914: China and Russia will keep out and, one hopes, will have the good taste not to laugh out loud at this monstrous error.
One might suggest that Washington finish a few wars before starting a new one: on the 25th, Washington and its minions will have been in Afghanistan for twice as long as the Soviets were.

FAILURE IN PLAIN SIGHT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Let us contemplate what John Bolton, quondam National Security Advisor to US President Trump, had in mind for “restoring democracy” to Venezuela. We are familiar with the first phase: 1) accusations, 2) threats, 3) stunts, 4) “world community” recognition, 5) appeals for coup, 6) sanctions.

1) You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of the United States. (January 2019)

2) All options are on the table. (January 2019)

3) After diverting aid needed badly by Venezuelans to Cuba last week (100 tons), and giving away billions of the Venezuelan people’s wealth to Cuba – now Maduro seeks aid from Cuba and China. All while denying the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis and rejecting aid at the border. (February 2019)

4) National Security Adviser John Bolton said on April 30, 2019 that what’s happening “is clearly not a coup” because the U.S. and many other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. (April 2019)

5) The FANB [Venezuelan military] must protect the Constitution and the Venezuelan people. It should stand by the National Assembly and the legitimate institutions against the usurpation of democracy. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela. (April 2019)

6) Bolton said the U.S. is “sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution. There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.” (August 2019)

Despite “corrupt and dying”, Maduro was still in power, still supported by the population, the “burning aid” stunt failed (when you’ve lost even the NYT…) and the Venezuelan military remains loyal. (Irony alert! Washington’s sanctions on Venezuela increased Russian oil exports to the USA and Europe!)

What would Bolton have wanted to do next? (Easy speculation – we’ve seen it before.) A “coalition of the willing” (no matter how artificial), US aircraft attack key targets with “precision” “surgical” strikes; (more strikes added until, à la Serbia, bombing random bridges 200 kilometres away from the supposed target). The bombing and destruction would eventually force Maduro to leave. Enter the “liberators”, the “legitimate National Assembly” takes power, the “world community” recognises “Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president”. With “democracy restored” and “freedom returned” the next stage: “American oil companies really invest[ing] in and produce[ing] the oil capabilities in Venezuela“, privatisation and IMF austerity. Happiness all round: “good for the people of Venezuela… good for the people of the United States”. Is Maduro still resisting in the hills and jungles? A surge or two will take care of that; there’s plenty of light at the end of the tunnel and the obedient corporate media will bleat that Maduro will soon be gone: March, April, May, May again, August, September (The Latin America version of the Assad Must Go Curse.)

That would have been Venezuela’s fate with Bolton fully turned on. But Bolton has been turned off. Maduro is still in Caracas and the story has tip-toed off the front pages. Although Hollywood leaps to obey its Master’s Voice and Jack Ryan will save us from a nuclear-armed Venezuela.

The war party is accustomed to blame its quagmires on someone else. Iraq was a success until Obama spoiled it:

because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains the American soldier had won by 2009, [the Islamic State] was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert.

Afghanistan likewise: Obama’s Failed Legacy in Afghanistan. Libya is far down the memory hole: an MSNBC special on Libya as the gateway of migrants to Europe never uses the word “NATO”.

To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place.

But Qaddafi didn’t just topple in a high wind, earthquake or other random phenomenon: NATO decided to topple him and did so – “We came, we saw, he died” cackled one of the architects. But MSNBC wants us to believe that the destruction was an inexplicable random event that nobody could have foreseen. And so, helped by the corporate news media’s goodthink, the war party slithers away from responsibility: Qaddafi “toppled”, we have a problem; nothing to do with us, or NATO, or Hillary. Bad stuff just happens. “The story of how Kosovo hosted an illegal market in human organs began to unfold today in a district court in the capital, Pristina” is so distant in time that only fringe websites talk about it. As to the Ukrainian disaster, news is starting to leak through the complacency membrane: Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups, Biden involvement, blowback.

With their excuses and deniability clutched in their hands, knowing the complaisant news media will back them up (CNN: Biden and Ukraine is a conspiracy theory), the war party rolls along. The wars start well, given the US military’s immense destructive power, and then bog down: US war-fighting doctrine is hard-wired for failure. Bolton’s Venezuela adventure, had it advanced to the bombing phase, would also have been pimped as a “success” – Guaidó inauguration, selected interviews, toppling of statues and the rest of the package. But Maduro and his supporters would not have given up and there’d be years of patrolling, “precision” bombing (eventually indistinguishable from “carpet bombing” – see Raqqa), door kicking, IEDs, ambushes, training failures. Iraq and Afghanistan again. They, in their turn, having repeated Vietnam.

But Bolton’s Excellent Adventure never got to that point because Trump would not sign off on the bombing stage and so his scheme failed in plain sight. Let us remember what Trump said while he was campaigning: everyone would be better off had President Bush taken a day at the beach rather than invade Iraq; the “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure in the USA; NATO is obsolete and the USA pays a disproportionate share; it would better to get along with Russia than not. Bolton, on the other hand, was all in favour of the Iraq war, believed one more war in the Middle East would have been good, thought NATO was great, and Russia terrible. (There’s a rumour that Trump was considering easing the failed Iran pressure and Bolton’s objections led to his firing.)

So why did he appoint Bolton in the first place? A theory: Keep you friends close but your enemies closer. The late Justin Raimondo agrees: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” When it’s clear that everything Bolton had a hand in was a spectacular flop, he’s tossed out of the tent with the knife in his back.

But Venezuela was not Bolton’s only failure in plain sight: his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran turned out to be much feebler than Tehran’s “maximum”: the strike on Saudi oil production. Note that, despite billions of dollars of weapons, air defence, radars and the like, neither Riyadh nor Washington has any idea of where the attack came from. Whether Iran did it directly, indirectly, at a distance, supplied some or all of the weapons, was entirely uninvolved or any other possibility you can think of doesn’t really matter: it’s checkmate. Lots of entities in the region are friendly to Tehran and so we can know that:

The attack was an amuse-bouche for what Iran

and its many allies could do

if Washington attacked it.

Another Bolton failure. Read his How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and note that he assumes that Tehran has no response. The greatest blind spot of the war party is its assumption that Washington always has the initiative and that its targets can only feebly squirm. But Tehran has been on Washington’s hit list for four decades and it hasn’t wasted that time. A war with Iran will, I am certain, be the Last War for the Imperium Americanum because Iran will stop the oil and the world economy will stagger and probably fall. It has outwitted Washington every step of the way. If Trump really is a reader of Sun Tzu, he should reflect on “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle“. The war party overestimates US power and underestimates the enemy’s will. Succumbs.

Returning to Raimondo’s theory, Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we did what you told us to and it was a complete failure”. Will he appoint people in tune with his campaign thoughts? Apparently not, Bolton’s replacement is more of the same: “peace through strength”, US military dangerously weak, Obama “emboldened our adversaries and disheartened our allies” and the rest of the unreflective claptrap.

This is all part of the Mystery of Donald Trump: on the one hand he surrounds himself with the war party, on the other he hasn’t started any wars. (Bolton was fired in Trump’s day 963; by contrast Obama attacked Libya on his day 788 and called for Assad’s departure on day 940.)

But the war party has painted him into several corners.

(How can he get out of the corner? Easy – just blame his “bad advisors” and do it. The Trump haters won’t think any the worse of him and the rest of us will be glad to step away from the endless war and give him credit for deviousness in a good cause. Or, à la Macron’s suggestion, he can surrender while pretending to have won.)

BYE BYE BOLTON

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

Trump campaigned in part on the idea that the American wars had been a disaster for the country; John Bolton never met a war he didn’t want more of. So the mystery is not what the two disagreed about but why Trump hired him in the first place.

I can’t help wondering if the late Justin Raimondo was right when he suggested Trump had appointed Bolton as a cunning plot: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” Certainly everything Bolton has had a hand in has been a spectacular flop and Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we tried that, and it didn’t work”.

Why fire him now? It might be connected with the re-evaluation of weapons supplies to Ukraine or getting out of Afghanistan before the US and its minions double the Soviet time there on 25 January. Or the undoubted failure of the regime change in Venezuela. Or the fact that Tehran has outwitted Washington at every step; a desire to finally improve relations with Russia; Bolton’s sabotage of the North Korea initiatives or many other things where the two would have been at odds.

And, although I doubt Trump or he knew it, he was fired on Ashura which is rather ironic.

But we’ll have a better idea when we see whom he appoints next. And whom he fires next. It is rather a mystery why Trump has chosen to surround himself with representatives of the war party.

ENOUGH AND NOT TOO MUCH

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation, also posted on SST, picked up by The Daily Coin, in French,

 

Moscow will not engage in an exhausting arms race, and the country’s military spending will gradually decrease as Russia does not seek a role as the “world gendarme,” President Vladimir Putin said. Moscow is not seeking to get involved in a “pointless” new arms race, and will stick to “smart decisions” to strengthen its defensive capabilities, Putin said on Friday during an annual extended meeting of the Defense Ministry board. “Intelligence, brains, discipline and organization” must be the cornerstones of the country’s military doctrine, the Russian leader said. The last thing that Russia needs is an arms race that would “drain” its economy, and Moscow sure does not want that “in any scenario,” Putin pointed out.

RT, 22 December 2017

It’s easy to forget it today, but the USSR was, in its time, an “exceptionalist” country. It was the world’s first socialist country – the “bright future“; it set an example for all to follow, it was destined by History. It had a mission and was required by History to assist any country that called itself “socialist”. The USSR had bases and interests all over the world. As the 1977 USSR Constitution said:

the Soviet state, a new type of state, the basic instrument for defending the gains of the revolution and for building socialism and communism. Humanity thereby began the epoch-making turn from capitalist to socialism.

A novus ordo seclorum indeed.

Russia, however, is just Russia. There is no feeling in Moscow that Russia must take the lead any place but Russia itself. One of the reasons, indeed, why Putin is always talking about the primacy of the UN, the independence of nation states, the impermissibility to interfere in internal activities – the so-called “Westphalian” position – is that he remembers the exceptionalist past and knows that it led to a dead end. Moscow has no interest in going abroad in search of internationalist causes.

Internationalism/exceptionalism and nationalism: the two have completely different approaches to constructing a military. The first is obsessed with “power projection“, “full spectrum superiority“, it imagines that its hypertrophied interests are challenged all over the planet. Its wants are expensive, indeterminate, unbounded. The other is only concerned with dealing with enemies in its neighbourhood. Its wants are affordable, exact, finite. The exceptionalist/interventionist has everything to defend everywhere; the nationalist has one thing to defend in one place. It is much easier and much cheaper to be a nationalist: the exceptionalist/interventionist USA spends much more than anyone else but always needs more; nationalist Russia can cut its expenditure.

The USSR’s desire to match or exceed the USA in all military areas was a contributing factor to the collapse of its alliance system and the USSR itself. Estimates are always a matter for debate, especially in a command economy that hid its numbers (even when they were calculable), but a common estimate is a minimum of 15% of the USSR’s production went to the military. But the true effort was probably higher. The USSR was involved all over the world shoring up socialism’s “bright future” and that cost it at home.

Putin & Co’s “bright future” is for Russia only and the world may do as it wants about any example or counterexample it may imagine there. While Putin may occasionally indulge himself by offering opinions about liberalism and oped writers gas on about the Putin/Trump populism threat, Putin & Co are just trying to do what they think best for Russia with, as their trust ratings suggest (in contrast with those of the rulers of the “liberal” West), the support and agreement of most Russians.

The military stance of the former exceptionalist country is all gone. As the USSR has faded away, so have its overseas bases and commitments: the Warsaw Pact is gone together with the forward deployment of Soviet armies; there are no advisors in Vietnam or Mozambique; Moscow awaits with bemusement the day next January when the surviving exceptionalist power and its minions will have been in Afghanistan twice as long as the USSR was. The United States, still exceptionalist, still imagining it is spreading freedom and democracy, preventing war and creating stability, has bases everywhere and thinks that it must protect “freedom of navigation” to and from China in the South China Sea. It has yet to learn the futility of seeing oneself as The World’s Example.

Putin & Co have learned: Russia has no World-Historical purpose and its military is just for Russia. They understand what this means for Russia’s Armed Forces:

Moscow doesn’t have to match the US military; it just has to checkmate it.

And it doesn’t have to checkmate it everywhere, only at home. The US Air Force can rampage anywhere but not in Russia’s airspace; the US Navy can go anywhere but not in Russia’s waters. It’s a much simpler job and it costs much less than what Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev were attempting; it’s much easier to achieve; it’s easier to plan and carry out. The exceptionalist/interventionist has to plan for Everything; the nationalist for One Thing.

Study the enemy, learn what he takes for granted and block it. And the two must haves of American conventional military power as it affects Russia are 1) air superiority and 2) assured, reliable communications; counter those and it’s checkmated: Russia doesn’t have to equal or surpass the US military across the board, just counter its must haves.

Russia’s comprehensive and interlocking air defence weaponry is well known and well respected: it covers the spectrum from defences against ballistic missiles to small RPVs, from complex missile/radar sets to MANPADS; all of it coordinated, interlocking with many redundancies. We hear US generals complaining about air defence bubbles and studies referring to Russia’s “anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) exclusion zones“. Russian air defence has not been put to the full-scale test but we have two good indications of its effectiveness. The first was the coordinated RPV attack on Russian bases in Syria last year in which seven were shot down and six taken over, three of them landed intact. Then, in the FUKUS attack of April 2018, the Russians say the Syrian AD system (most of which is old but has benefited from Russian coordination) shot down a large number of the cruise missiles. (FUKUS’ claims are not believable).

The other area, about which even less is known are Russian electronic warfare capabilities: “eye-watering” says a US general; “Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries. They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera.” Of course, what the Americans know is only what Russia wants them to know. There is speculation about an ability to spoof GPS signals. AEGIS-equipped warships seem to have trouble locating themselves (HNoMS Helge Ingstad) or avoiding being run into (USS Lake Champlain, USS John McCain, USS Fitzgerald). Bad seamanship may, of course, be the cause and that’s what the US investigations claim. So more rumour than fact but a lot of rumour.

In the past two or three decades US air power has operated with impunity; it has assumed that all GPS-based systems (and there are many) will operate as planned and that communications will be free and clear. Not against Russia. With those certainties removed, the American war fighting doctrine will be left scrabbling.

But AD and EW are not the only Russian counters. When President Bush pulled the USA out of the ABM Treaty in 2001, Putin warned that Russia would have to respond. Mutual Assured Destruction may sound crazy but there’s a stability to it: neither side, under any circumstance, can get away with a first strike; therefore neither will try it. Last year we met the response: a new ICBM, a hypersonic re-entry vehicle, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with enormous flight time and a similar underwater cruise missile. No defence will stop them and so MAD returns. A hypersonic anti-shipping missile will keep the US Navy out of Russian waters. And, to deal with the US Army’s risible ground forces in Europe, with or without NATO’s other feeble forces, Russia has re-created the First Guards Tank Army. Checkmate again.

No free pass for US air power, strained and uncertain communications, a defeated ground attack and no defence against Russian nuclear weapons. That’s all and that’s enough.

And that is how Moscow does it while spending much less money than Washington. It studies Washington’s strengths and counters them: “smart decisions”. Washington is starting to realise Russia’s military power but it is blinded and can only see its reflection in the mirror: the so-called “rising threat from Russia” would be no threat to a Washington that stayed at home.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu

BYE BYE INF, HELLO MAD

(Response to a question from Sputnik on what’s next now that the INF Treaty is dead.)

Washington has killed the third of the four arms control treaties left to us by the Cold War. All that remains is the strategic agreement of Obama and Trump says he doesn’t like that either. It’s possible that Trump expects some re-negotiation of these treaties this time involving China as well but, if so, Beijing is probably not going to bother. So all that’s left is mutually assured destruction: no matter what one side does, the other can obliterate it.

We know what Moscow’s response will be but because it’s already here: a new ICBM, a hypersonic re-entry vehicle, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with enormous flight time and a similar underwater cruise missile. No defence will stop them and so MAD returns. Checkmate.

If the US re-creates the Pershing missile, where will it station it? Many European and Asian countries would be unwilling to paint a target on their heads. So that remains to be seen.

BIDEN AND START II

(Answer to Sputnik about my thoughts about Biden endorsing a renewal of START II.)

(Pretty hypothetical questions. I don’t think Biden will be chosen and I am confident Trump will be re-elected.)

Biden is running as Obama’s heir, therefore it’s not surprising that he would support START 2; he will probably claim he had a lot to do with it.

The Cold War left four important arms treaties. The ABM Treaty (1972) forbade anti ballistic missiles, the INF Treaty (1987) forbade intermediate range nuclear weapons, the CFE Treaty (1990 and modified) limited conventional weapons and the START Treaty (1991 and renewed) limited nuclear weapons. Washington (Bush II) abrogated the ABM Treaty in 2002; NATO never ratified the modified CFE Treaty and invented so many new conditions that Russia, which had ratified it, pulled out in 2015 (Obama); Washington has just pulled out of the INF Treaty (Trump). All that remains is the New START Treaty of 2011 (Obama) which Trump has said he doesn’t like and. So if he’s POTUS in 2021, that’s probably gone too.

So it looks as if the entire arms control regime inherited from the Cold War will be gone in a few years: in all cases the initiative has come from Washington although Moscow has (of course) been blamed.

It’s a good question whether anyone in the Democratic base is even aware of this reality or much interested. Maybe Biden can awaken people to the danger. Or is the Democratic Party too far down the rabbit hole of Trump conspiracies, PC obsessions and social justice warriors to notice important things?

TRUMP-PUTIN AFTER OSAKA

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

I’m not very optimistic. As everyone knows, Trump years ago said it would be better to get along with Russia than not. A perfectly reasonable point of view and not a thought that Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon or Reagan would have had much trouble with. But Clinton lost the “more than a 99% chance” election and “Russian interference” became her favourite excuse; the typists of the complaisant US media snapped to attention and repeated and repeated the charge, pumping the intensity of “Russian interference” to ever higher levels.

Mueller’s report has killed the collusion charge but the other half of the lie, Russian interference, remains.

Until a real investigation is completed and people are charged, convicted and sent to jail – we who been following events can name many of them – producing effects so indisputable that even the readers of the NYT and WaPo, the watchers of MSNBC and CNN, the last partisans in Congress, are speechless, the loudly shouted charge that Trump is Putin’s stooge will block genuinely improved relations.

So, until – if – that happens, I can’t expect much except minor improvements. Which are better than nothing but a good deal short of what is necessary between two powers either of which can obliterate us.