AFGHANISTAN: SAME, SAME; AGAIN, AGAIN

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT TO DO? – THE EUROPEAN DILEMMA

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is to be done?

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

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

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

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

AB INITIO: AFGHANISTAN

17 November 2015. I wrote this under a pseudonym when I was writing for Russia Insider (A site which has betrayed its intention and which I — AGAIN — refuse the right to reprint my stuff: something I deny to no one else). I am inspired to do this by this piece Fuller just wrote. Go and read it and then come back. We now see the utter collapse of the whole project. Forty years and thousands — hundreds of thousands — of destroyed lives later.

Bigger Than Big, Maybe Even Huger Than Huge

Almost like Brzezinski saying he got it wrong

When I heard of the Paris atrocities I thought: Oh no, here we go again. Fake sincerity, prayers “going out”, “attack on values”, “stand together”, flag overlays on Facebook, mounds of flowers, op-ed writers flogging their dead horses, solemn parade with linked arms (but will they invite Poroshenko this time?), T shirt slogans and all the rest of the sentimental bogosity. What there would not be is any consideration or discussion of Wahhabism, the US causative element, NATO and its activity in the home countries of refugees, “moderate rebels” or anything actually challenging. Just another wallow in false emotion and cheap threats. And, oh yes, some bombing. Always some bombing.

Never would there be any actual thought about causes and effects, how these things came to be and certainly not even the tiniest admission that we – we the exceptionals – just might have a responsibility. Nor would we hear about all the other atrocities in places that don’t get the full soppy treatment. Especially not Syria which has had four years in which every day is a Paris. And certainly not any thought that the explosives and weapons used in Paris might just have been supplied… by Paris.

Well, perhaps I’m wrong. And very glad to be too.

Read this:

I reach this view with much mixed feeling. Over the years I have grown increasingly convinced that western military interventions and wars to “fix” the Middle East have not only failed, but have vastly exacerbated nearly all regional situations. Washington has at the end of the day, in effect, “lost” every one of its recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. The West has been as much the problem as the solution.

And now read this:

The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against [the Russians]. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.

Different guys, right? Nope. Same guy, different times.

The author is Graham Fuller. Here’s his bio on his website, and here’s what Wikipedia says. Details are sparse – of course – but he is widely regarded as one of the key people in the US support of the mujaheddin in the Afghanistan-Soviet war.

In other words, Fuller was one of the architects of the US policy to use jihadists in one part of the world expecting to put them back in the box afterwards. (The arrogance of the hyperpower: we’re the actors, you’re the puppets). Now he realizes they’re not puppets and they didn’t quietly go back in the box when the hyperpower was finished using them. Now he says:

The elimination of ISIS requires every significant stake-holder to be present: UN, US, EU, Canada, Russia, Iran, Kurds, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Egypt and others. China, aspiring to a major world role, cannot sit this one out either. This convocation requires real heft and clout to impose some rough plan of action. Above all, the UN must head up future operations involving the indispensable future ground operations. If ever an neutral face was essential, this is it.

Which is exactly what Putin is calling for.

Speaking of Putin, I guess Fuller now agrees that

It is equally irresponsible to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.” And “So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here?

So, maybe the Paris atrocity will lead to some clear thinking. And, as there can’t be any real action without clear thinking…

But Fuller’s only one man, plenty more have to now come to the same understanding.

THE AFGHANISTAN DISASTER

(Response to question from Sputnik)

Every now and again, some crappy little country has to pick up the United States and throw it against the wall. It’s the only way Americans will learn to stay at home and attend to their swampy garden. Is this the moment they learn? We shall see; but American propaganda and self-delusion is strong.

Its allies, relying on Washington’s word, information and competence have followed it into another disaster that they will have to pay for because they don’t have two oceans between it and catastrophe. Is this the moment they learn? We shall see; but European propaganda and self-delusion is strong.

I don’t blame Biden much and he did have the courage to get out rather than kicking it down the road for his successor (although he did break the agreement Trump had made). In his much-mocked speech last month he was only repeating what rooms full of be-medalled and be-starred people told him. Is this the moment he learns? We shall see; but American propaganda and self-delusion is strong.

NATO’s nation-building, security-building, defence institution building piffle is exposed as delusory nonsense. Is this the moment they learn? We shall see; but NATO propaganda and self-delusion is strong.

A stunning and comprehensive defeat, worse than Vietnam. The “unipolar moment” ends in chaos and humiliation at Kabul airport: the hyperpower can’t even conduct a retreat.

(“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” – Michael Ledeen.

CAN THEY LEARN? ANOTHER US WARGAME DEFEAT

First published Strategic Culture Foundation. picked up by ZeroHedge, Verity Weekly, scottadamsshow, usanewsguru, invest.smola.com, alltopcash.com, patriotnews, financial world,

(Note: by tradition, going back to the first Prussian Kriegsspiel, your side is “Blue”, the other side is “Red”. Soviets did it the other way round.)

According to David Halberstam, when Washington was considering escalating its presence in Vietnam, a wargame was held to test options. More bombing aircraft were put into airfields in Vietnam; Red attacked the airfields. Blue brought in more troops to guard the airfields; Red started attacking the supply lines for those troops. More troops to guard the supply lines; more attacks on their support systems. And so on: everything the American side thought up was quickly and easily countered by the Vietnam team. The results were ignored: only a game, not really real.

Forward to 2002 and a very large and complicated exercise simulating a US attack on – not named, but obviously – Iran. The retired USMC general playing Red – a no-nonsense experienced soldier who didn’t believe technology was the answer to everything (especially the projected wonders that the wargame granted to the American side), scorned business-school buzzwords like “network-centric” – thought outside the box and used low-tech weaponry. When the US high-tech took out his communications, as he knew they would, he went silent – his communications were by motorcycle dispatch riders, coded messages in Friday prayers and similar old-school techniques. He fired more missiles that the Blue side could handle and sank most of the invasion force and finished off the rest with swarms of small boats. “The whole thing was over in five, maybe ten minutes“. The invasion force was brought back to life, the rules were modified to reduce the defenders’ abilities – the Red force commander was on the point of destroying the reconstituted landing forces – and the US side “won”. He walked out when he decided that the game was too rigged for him to bother doing anything; as he said in a report: “this whole thing was prostituted; it was a sham intended to prove what they wanted to prove“.

Each of these wargames was supposed to be a learning and testing experience. The first was testing what to do and how to do it in Vietnam, the second, more ambitious, was supposed to test the whole package of the new US military in every aspect – it is said to have cost a quarter of a billion dollars and involved 13,000 participants. What was learned from the two? Certainly nothing was learned from the Vietnam wargame – Washington went ahead and put troops in – just a few at first but rising to an incredible 500,000 at the height and dropped a fantastic number of bombs; corners were turned, light was seen at the end of the tunnel but everyone knew it was a lost cause and no one wanted to say so. The enemy countered and endured everything and, at the end, the US went home defeated. The war game turned out to be a rather accurate predictor of the future. And it doesn’t appear that the US military have learned anything from the 2002 experience either. Certainly nothing in Washington’s behaviour towards Iran gives the impression that the US leadership imagines it could be defeated if it attacks Iran.

Nor, come to think of it, is there evidence that it learned anything much from the Vietnam reality either. Afghanistan was, in many respects, a replay of Vietnam: a determined low-tech force countered everything the US military could think up. In 2018, Les Gelb, the compiler of the Pentagon Papers said:

You know, we get involved in these wars and we don’t know a damn thing about those countries, the culture, the history, the politics, people on top and even down below. And, my heavens, these are not wars like World War II and World War I, where you have battalions fighting battalions. These are wars that depend on knowledge of who the people are, with the culture is like. And we jumped into them without knowing. That’s the damned essential message of the Pentagon Papers.

And now we move forward two decades. Last October another wargame simulated a US defence of Taiwan against a Chinese attack. Another test of some high-falutin war-fighting concept. (One might parenthetically ask how many of these concepts are actually business-school ideas given the predilection of US generals for MBAs. Probably the worst imaginable preparation for what our USMC “Iranian” commander called a “terrible, uncertain, chaotic, bloody business“.) General John Hyten, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman, and MBA, reported on the wargame:

Without overstating the issue, [Blue force] failed miserably. An aggressive red team that had been studying the United States for the last 20 years just ran rings around us. They knew exactly what we’re going to do before we did it.

The first thing that went wrong for the Blue force was that it suddenly lost all its communicationsas I have been saying (and the Chinese and Russians surely know) one of the fundamental assumptions of the US style in war-fighting is constant, reliable, assured communications. All its “smart” weapons need to be “talking” to their controllers all the time: stop the “talking” and they become immediately “stupid”. Then the US force was hit with wave after wave of missiles. And the rear areas were hit with waves of missiles. And that was that. And, in another wargame in 2020, Poland was annihilated by the Russians: Warsaw was surrounded in five days.

What stood out for me in Hyten’s refreshingly honest presentation was this: “studying the United States for the last 20 years”. Washington officials are not noted for their ability to see things from the other side’s point of view, but he certainly got that one right. China (and Russia and Iran) know that they are on Washington’s hitlist. They have been watching Washington fight wars for two or three decades (winning none of them, despite the hype); they know how Washington fights; they know its strengths and weaknesses. They have put a lot of thought into it. One might also observe that, while Washington fights its wars safely overseas, China, Russia and Iran have very strong memories of wars fought on their own territory. This gives them, as Andrei Martyanov is always pointing out, a rather different view of war – it’s not some affair of choice far away over there, it’s a horrible, deadly, bloody, immensely destructive process in your own home.

The United States has zero historic experience with defending the US proper against powerful and brutal enemies. It is a cultural difference, a profound one and it manifests itself across the whole spectrum of activities, not just the respective military-industrial complexes. In other words, Russians MUST build top of the line weaponry, because the safety of Russia depends on it.

Losing for them is not the American way of losing – no walking away, explaining away and forgetting away: it’s life or death. They take war seriously and they put the effort into thinking about how to defend themselves against an American attack. They know that air superiority and assured communications are the necessities of the American way of war; they know the US military expects to accumulate huge forces undisturbed. They haven’t used these years idly; they won’t wait for the Americans to leisurely assemble the force to bomb them. That’s why they have concentrated on EW and lots of missiles. The US won’t have secure communications, free air power or safe bases: Beijing. Moscow and Tehran, if they have to fight, will fight to win. And do whatever it takes; no umpire will appear to “call foul” and re-float the fleet.

In the real world, Ukraine’s “de-occupation” boasting was silenced in two weeks by a huge Russian mobilisation. Surely somebody in the Pentagon noticed that. HMS Defender’s adventure off Crimea (incidently the only one of the six ships of its class actually fit for sea – not, in itself, a very impressive performance) may also have taught some lessons about the consequences of silly gestures.

Nothing was learned from the Vietnam or Iran wargames, what about this one? General Hyten said:

the U.S. has reevaluated the joint warfighting concept. He said the new strategy being developed is “not quite a clean-sheet approach, because you can never take a clean sheet of paper if you want to get between now and 2030, you have to start with what you have.”

That sounds good – “clean-sheet” – but you know that nothing will really change. Vietnam was supposed to teach a lesson (and the US Army certainly did improve) but, essentially, it did the same things all over again in Afghanistan. For twice as long. I doubt that this exercise will cause the full-scale change that he’s talking about. Complacency will probably return.

Even so, one would like to be a fly on the wall when US senior military brief the President: “failed miserably”, Afghanistan defeat (coming soon to Iraq and Syria), Russian and Chinese military power, hypersonic manoeuvring missiles, EW, layered air defence. The briefings can’t be too upbeat, can they? Could this be why the big exercise in the Black Sea ended so quietly? Could this be in the background of the decision to stop trying to block Nord Stream? Could this be a reason why Biden asked to meet with Putin? The couch-warriors will never understand this of course, but perhaps one can hope that the generals will – Hyten seems to have but, just as American wars are a sequence of one-year wars because each commander kicks the failure down the road for his successor to worry about, his replacement may return to the complacency of being at the top of “the greatest military in the history of the world“.

But, one can hope they’ll learn a little humility.

UKRAINE AND THE LONG GAME

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.

Madeleine Albright February 1998

No, you aren’t; no you don’t.

Putin or Xi, date and source unknown

The myth of Maidan Ukraine is that a corrupt, Russia-friendly president was overthrown in a largely peaceful revolt by the disgusted citizenry in 2014. After a massacre of the peaceful protesters by his security forces, he fled; democracy was restored; a new government elected; “reform” began “progressing”. But Moscow wouldn’t leave Ukraine alone: it seized Crimea, blessing its conquest with a fake referendum, and then started a war in the east. Et cetera. This narrative is widespread in the West.

It is almost completely false. Take for example a founding myth of post-Maidan Ukraine – the “Heavenly Hundred“. The Canadian scholar Ivan Katchanovski has shown in the most convincing way, after meticulous examination of the evidence, that the “the protesters were shot by concealed shooters from the Maidan-controlled locations“. For those who believe that cui bono is a pointer to motive, the massacre put paid to the EU-brokered agreement that had just been negotiated. In the immortal words of Victoria Nuland: “fuck the EU” and lo! Yats was the guy six days later. Nuland told us that five billion dollars from Washington produced a “European future”, “justice”, “human dignity” and “return to economic health”. She did not mention the US Navy tender for the Renovation of Sevastopol School #5: another cui bono moment.

Seven years later, Ukraine is a mess – I can think of no better illustration than this fact from Ukraine Business News:

Remittances by Ukraine’s labor migrants is forecast to reach $13.3 billion this year – 11% higher than the $12 billion recorded in 2019 and 2020. Labor is expected to remain above metals this year as Ukraine’s second largest export, after food.

In short, all the cheerful Charlie stuff about “the progress of Ukraine in carrying out the reforms” falls down on the fact that it is living off the Black Earth area and citizens working abroad for richer neighbours. Deindustrialisation is nearly complete – Antonov is gone, Yuzhmash struggles, Donbass has left, Black Sea Shipyard liquidatedhere’s a summary:

As you can see, from the republic of the USSR, which had one of the most powerful industrial potentials in the country and is able to provide itself and other republics with products of almost all industries, Ukraine has turned into a territory where only enterprises for processing agricultural raw materials or the same forest operate. Its complete de-industrialization is, in fact, completed.

Polling shows the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians regard the present situation as bad and a third expect it to get worse. Worse off in every respect. Food, remittances, Russian gas transit fees, IMF loans: not much of an economy there.

Nuland’s “justice”, “human dignity” and “return to economic health” were just words: the school tender reveals Washington’s real interests. The overthrow of Yanukovych was a replay of his first overthrow – the now-forgotten Orange Revolution and the even more forgotten Yushchenko. The aims were to separate Ukraine from Russia and by empowering the Galicians, ever nostalgic for their nazi glory days, to instil a strong anti-Russian sense. Gain a military position closer to Russia. A fertile propaganda source. Ideally, get Russia enticed into invading – more hostility, more sanctions, maybe even get it stuck into an endless war. But always a problem for Russia.

How has that worked out?

There is no doubt that Ukraine produces sudden crises to which Moscow must react. But this can work two ways. A very good example occurred this spring when Ukrainian President Zelensky declared that it was time to “de-occupy” Crimea and moved some forces east. Within two weeks, Moscow had mobilised two corps plus airborne formations. Especially impressive were the division- and corps- level artillery systems: 2S4 heavy mortars, 2S7 long-range guns, Iskanders and the ships from the Caspian Flotilla. NATO and Washington huffed and puffed, but the game was up and the crisis subsided. Tiresome for Moscow, to be sure, a distraction from things it would rather be doing, potentially dangerous, but there were benefits too. The mobilisation system got a real life workout and sensible people learned that Russia could mobilise, in two weeks, more lethal force than NATO could assemble anywhere in any timeframe. (And just after the “miserable failure” of a US wargame against China, too.) Sanctions imposed on Russia after its “invasion” of Crimea have been cleverly used to build up Russian food production so that, far from having to import half its food, as was said in the 1990s. it is now an exporter of food. Other sanctions have also benefited Russian domestic production. So, on the one hand a cost and an irritation, but on the other a benefit.

So, altogether, one can make the argument that Washington’s “Ukrainian Gambit” has failed in its intent – Russia has been hurt, but not nearly as much as the planners hoped. But then, what can one expect when the USA is run by people who say Russia makes nothing and its economy is nothing but nuclear weapons and oil? (The last said, incidentally, in the very week a Russian-made module docked at the ISS.) No surprise that they were wrong again; and, with the same people back, they will be wronger still.

Russia’s strategy has been patience – the long game. After, that is, the initial swift move to allow the people of Crimea to choose what they had wanted since 1954. That took Washington by surprise and checkmated any thoughts of Sevastopol becoming a US Navy base. But since then, the strategy has been patient – putting a thumb on the scale from time to time to keep the rebels on Donbass from defeat – but avoiding temptations. The Russian Armed Forces could overrun Ukraine in short order but at the cost of guerilla war in the west and parts of the centre; Putin’s team is too smart to fall for that.

From time to time Moscow puts down markers for a future when the mass of Ukrainians free themselves from the Galician-driven nightmare and return to a rational relationship with Russia. Investigators have been taking note of the numerous crimes committed in Ukraine and in July presented their case to the ECHR. There is no great expectation that the case will be investigated now – “human rights” today are one-way – but there may be a future in which it will.

Likewise Putin’s essay on Russia and Ukraine and his follow-up remarks are addressed to those Ukrainians not lost in the absurdities of Freud being Ukrainian, ancient gods born in Ukraine and the language from Venus. And how many would that be? A lot more than Washington thinks. A recent Ukrainian poll showed 41% of Ukrainians agreed with Putin that Ukrainians and Russians are one people; 55% disagreed. The division in Ukraine is seen here (as on every question) with a majority in the east and south agreeing with Putin. But the official line in today’s Ukraine is that Moscow “hijacked the history of Kyivan Rus’” and it’s no relation: “There are no indications of any connection of Kyivan Rus with the Finnish ethnic groups in the land of ‘Moksel‘”. But, Putin can hope, one day this will be cast aside and Ukrainians and Russians can make a future of cooperation. (Not necessarily unity, be it noted – he speaks of Germany and Austria, Canada and the USA, as very similar peoples living as different political units.)

So that’s been Moscow’s strategy since its swift move in Crimea. Many would prefer a sudden smash, but there are very good reasons why Moscow has learned that it’s better to be patient as I argue here.

So Moscow has, to a degree, been caught in the trap, how about the oh-so-clever plotters? Well, first there’s the money: Ukraine has absorbed a lot for very little return. In 2014, when expectations were high, the IMF was talking about $18 billion. In 2021 it was withholding the next tranche “because conditions haven’t been met“. Were “conditions” ever met? This sounds more like an announcement that the West is losing interest. But the debt remains and Ukraine has one last thing to loot, although it’s resisting: its farmland. But, vide Confessions of an Economic Hitman, that’s the point of the debt in the first place. Trump’s first impeachment was about something he did or didn’t do about Ukraine – no one remembers or cares any more, but it said to be very important at the time – and so the Ukraine imbroglio came home. Hunter Biden’s laptop – ignored by the Establishment media but nevertheless known – also brings the story home. Then there’s the question of the nazis in Ukraine – the West downplays their existence but the fact is that there is a well-armed group in Ukraine, an attractor for similar people, who, to put it simply, believe the wrong side won the Second World War. And they’re doing their best to produce another generation. What long-term effect will they have when Ukraine is rotted-out and looted-out? In 2014 Der Spiegel explained How the EU Lost Russia over Ukraine; does that look like a worthwhile exchange today? There are a lot of nuclear power stations in Ukraine: are we confident that they are well-managed and maintained? Washington would probably have opposed Nord Stream 2 as it opposed previous pipelines but the Ukrainian connection gave it another impetus; it eventually recognised reality and stopped blocking it but what did that cost its relations with Germany? Something else to add to the neocon failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the rest.

But these are only details. The most important entanglement is the thing itself. After the promises, aid, schemes, involvements and interferences, NATO, EU membership and the other withered carrots, Kiev has a seat at the table. Another anti-Russian voice that has to be placated; another actor that can start a crisis – even a war; more sanctions that hurt the sanctioner; an unresolvable item on every meeting agenda; another issue to compel subjects to bow to Washington. Another tail to wag the dog. And finally a political vulnerability at home: Biden’s Surrender to Merkel on Nord Stream 2 and Biden’s Gift to Putin scream the couch-warriors.

Of course Washington and its satrapies can just walk away from Ukraine (vide Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan et al); there will be a cost to their reputation for reliability but there isn’t much left of that. Russia, on the other hand, cannot walk away; but a Ukraine ruined and abandoned by its Western BFFs would be a different Ukraine. The long game, again.

There’s a Russian story about a thug holding a brick over someone’s head: Do you want to buy this brick? No thanks. You’d better buy it and not tempt fate. Who will buy the Ukrainian brick?

NORDSTREAM

(Answer to question from Sputnik.)

Washington invested a lot of time and effort into blocking the pipeline and has wisely admitted defeat, even going so far as to order its Tabaqui in Kiev to stop complaining. One can wonder whether Washington was trying to “keep Russia out” or “keep Germany down” but, as in the 1980s, it failed in both. The Biden-Merkel communique papered over this reality with guff about common values and empty threats should Moscow use “the gas weapon” – something it has never done but is always accused of. Berlin promised some money to Kiev but future money is not the same as present money. Nothing substantial there.

What of the future? There are too many uncertainties to answer. Merkel is apparently going in a couple of months; will her successor agree that her subservience to Washington on all issues but this one really was the best choice for Germany? Will Biden still be in office then? Will Germans assess their US connection as worth the cost? This failure of interference in Germany’s affairs, coming after the failure in Afghanistan into which Berlin sunk so many resources, make US-German relations rather fluid in the future.

As for Kiev, it has learned that loyalty to Washington is a one-way street; it can join the Afghanistan government in lamentation.

PUTIN-BIDEN SUMMIT

Answer to question from Sputnik, published here.

The American side asked for the meeting after two “tough guy” failures: the coup attempt in Belarus and the “de-occupation” of Crimea farce. When war-war fails it’s time for jaw-jaw as Churchill didn’t say.

But a third “tough guy” failure may have had more to do with it. In the 1990s the Americans believed they no longer needed to pay any attention to Russia; they had won, their winning would stand forever and they let the Cold War era arms control agreements lapse. But Russia has got well out in advance of the US in strategic weaponry and sensible elements in the US security structure now want arms agreements because Russia’s power cannot be ignored.

Thus the one important purpose of the meeting was achieved with the agreement to talk about arms control: the American side needs it and Moscow prefers stability and predictability.

The return of Ambassadors is, of course, to be welcomed but for the rest it will be impossible for Biden/Harris to drop their main campaign point which was that they saved their country from the Russian-controlled Trump. And so demented is the state of mind in the USA that domestic coverage will be nothing but partisan disputes over whether he insulted Putin properly and adequately.

Washington cannot accept that Russia (and China) will go their own way; that they are rising while it is falling; that the time of lecturing is over. So I expect no change until the new reality arrives in a manner that no one in Washington can ignore.

COUNTERING THE AMERICAN WAY OF WAR – PROOF OF CONCEPT

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

The American Way of War is founded on three assumptions. Ever since 1945 the USA has assumed that it would have air superiority: it knew that it would have to fight for it against the Soviets but assumed that it would be able to gain it, at least in the areas where needed (local air superiority). In Korea there was some resistance but the USAF was able to bomb pretty freely. Wikipedia informs us that it dropped more bombs on Korea than it did in the entire Pacific Theatre and about half as many as it did in the European Theatre in 1941-1945. North Korea was obliterated: “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too.” Which, of course, is the principal reason why North Korea has nuclear weapons today.

Bombing became the American Way of War par excellence with ever greater tonnages dropped: Cambodia received about the same amount as Korea, Laos about three times as much, Vietnam about six times as much. And the bombing continues today throughout Washington’s forever wars. Officially it is precise, surgical, carefully selected: “The targets I’m assigned to destroy have been vetted through the most professional members of our armed services, and (I know) that others are taking their jobs as seriously as I am“. But US Precision Bombing is a “Persistent Myth” and the reality is quite different:

Since World War II, the U.S. Air Force has loosened its definition of “accuracy” from 25 feet to 10 meters (39 feet), but that is still less than the blast radius of even its smallest 500 lb. bombs. [Here’s one.] So the impression that these weapons can be used to surgically “zap” a single house or small building in an urban area without inflicting casualties and deaths throughout the surrounding area is certainly contrived.

In the end, there is no difference from random carpet bombing: “precision strike” after “precision strike” after “precision strike” – even assuming the intelligence that guides the “precision” is accurate, which it isn’t – leaves nothing but rubble:

If you want a single word to summarize American war-making in this last decade and a half, I would suggest rubble. It’s been a painfully apt term since Sept. 11, 2001. In addition, to catch the essence of such war in this century, two new words might be useful — rubblize and rubblization.

Here are pictures from Raqqa in Iraq. Amnesty International calculates that 30,000 artillery rounds were fired and the New Yorker estimates 10,000 bombs dropped; given an assumed population of 300,000 that’s one for every seven or eight people; “precision” or not, what would your neighbourhood like like after that?

Doing war from the air is pretty cost-free especially if your targets have weak air defence. The 1998 NATO operation in Kosovo had two accidental NATO deaths and two aircraft shot down. The 2011 NATO operation in Libya cost one soldier and two aircraft from accidents and one helicopter captured. It’s engagingly technical and allows much talk of precision. To say nothing of the opportunity to smugly accuse others of just tossing bombs around: “Putin’s modern Air Force choosing devastating dumb bombs over precision strikes“. (In this puff piece the authors do not understand that the Russians actually have figured out a cheap way to make “dumb” bombs “precise”. The process is explained here. Also note the familiar American boast “We’re able to do very precise weaponeering in order to strike and then also minimize civilian casualty”.)

The second assumption of the American Way of War is a prerequisite of the first – assured communications. The American way of precision bombing requires that the bomb or missile “talk” continually to its guide, whether that be a laser designator, a signal to the target and back or GPS satellites. This “talking” must be free, unrestricted and continuous – if it is stopped, the “smart” missile or bomb immediately becomes “stupid”. (Another advantage of the Russian way, incidentally, is that the “talking” is unnecessary once the bomb is dropped.)

US warfighting doctrine depends on air power operating and communicating freely.

The countries on Washington’s target list are well aware of this and that is why they are continually improving their air defence and electronic warfare capabilities. Conversely, the reason why NATO members have feeble air defence and limited EW capability is that they’ve never thought they needed to have them. Years of beating up countries with trivial air defence and EW has left them complacent. (Even a wake-up call like the shooting down of the F-117 is soon sent down the Memory Hole.)

Great strategists have always known that victory is found in avoiding the enemy’s strength and attacking his weakness and that one should “fight the enemy with the weapons he lacks.” Russia, China and Iran cannot expect to win a naval battle in the South Pacific against the US Navy: there will be no second Battles of Leyte Gulf, Midway or Coral Sea. That would be to attack US strengths. Missiles to take out aircraft carriers are the answer: do not attack the enemy’s strength, fight him with the weapons he lacks. Neither would they attempt to invade and conquer the USA itself. Defence is what they want and these are the principles that guide them.

But there is a third assumption of the American Way of War and that is simply this:

the air raid sirens will sound somewhere else.

Everything that I have said above applies to Israel. Just like the USA, Israel has grown accustomed to using air power, “precision strikes” and all the rest of it. In 1973 it had a hard ground fight but since its 2006 repulse by Hezbollah in Lebanon it has relied ever more on air strikes. Like the US, it is confident that it has air superiority and secure communications. Being so much closer to its enemies, it is not as confident that the air raid sirens will always scream somewhere else, but confident that it can inflict, via its air power, unacceptable damage on its enemy, Israel proceeds. Hezbollah and Hamas would be fools to try – even if they could – to build an air force to fight Israel, neither can they expect to have air defence and electronic warfare assets to seriously challenge Israel’s air superiority. Because they cannot attack the two assumptions of air superiority and communications, they must therefore attack the third assumption of invulnerability. Not the enemy’s strength but his weakness.

The last big US ground operations, the Iraq wars of 1990 and 2003, were preceded by months of unimpeded transportation of immense quantities of supplies across the Atlantic. Baghdad never interfered and the complacent supposition that the air raid sirens would sound only in the enemy’s skies was further strengthened. But, should NATO be so suicidal as to provoke Russia to war, this will not be the case: the Iskanders will come calling and there will be no uninterrupted buildup. NATO bases will not be safe sanctuaries and the convoys will have to fight their way through.

We see, today, the proof of concept. In May Gaza fired hundreds of simple, cheap rockets at Israel. The Israeli air defence system, Iron Dome, was reasonably effective but it will run out of missiles long before Gaza, to say nothing of Hezbollah, will. Iron Dome suffers from the weakness that it is far more expensive than the simple rockets Hamas is using. Debris rained down on Israeli cities, the odd rocket got through (probably more than we were told). The air raid sirens were continuous and Israelis were in bomb shelters. It’s true that Israel’s air force obliterated buildings in Gaza but that’s not the point: everyone knew they could do that, it’s the continuous rockets that are new. This went on for eleven days with no diminution of fire from Gaza. A piece in the NYT, not a noticeably Israel-hostile outlet, quotes an estimate of 30,000 rockets in Gaza; only about ten percent were fired. Hezbollah has at least four times as many. The myth of Israel’s invincibility has been broken: gravely diminished in 2006 on land, its skies are no longer safe. Fight the enemy’s weakness (its home morale – how many dual citizens are already packing their suitcases?) and use weapons it does not have.

A ceasefire was announced after eleven days; we’ll see if it holds: Israeli police have again stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque which was the trigger in the first place. The Jerusalem Post attempts a summing up; and a very pro-Israeli one it is: so many commanders, headquarters, launching sites claimed destroyed. Most important though is its recognition that Hamas “increased its volume and range” of rocket launches. And “Hamas took credit for redrawing the equation of power in the region in its battle with Israel, asserting that Israel is now in a state of decline”. A claim to be sure. But one with some reality. Hamas struck with greater numbers and deeper into Israel than ever before and there were also disturbances in the Arab population in Israel proper. Hamas is claiming a victory and it is not wrong to do so.

Air superiority, assured immediate communications and security of the home front. Gaza and Hezbollah present the poor man’s solution to the problem – lots of cheap rockets to challenge the assumption of a secure home front: Israel’s “illusion of normality” is gone.

Richer and more industrially-based entities can counter the first two assumptions and challenge the third with more sophisticated answers. Perhaps the greatest challenge to the complacency that other countries will be the amphitheatres for American wars is the Russian Poseidon; this weapon, a sort of giant autonomous underwater cruise missile, is designed to create a tsunami to wipe out US ports and coastal areas. Iran, in its retaliatory attack on the US base in Iraq last year, showed that US forces were not safe in their bases. China and Russia are both creating weapons systems to attack the USA where it is weak using weapons it does not have. US aircraft carrier battle groups, rather than projections of mighty power, are mere targets to hypersonic missiles. Russian EW capability has been described by at least one US general as “eye-watering“, able to turn off US systems; and one may be sure that the Russians are saving their best for later. (Can they blind an entire warship? Not at all! Disinformation! Nonsense! Information Warfare! A little too much protesting?) Russia and China can do this because they are not lost to fantasies of “power projection” or “full spectrum superiority“; they defend themselves with weapons the aggressor does not have that are directed at his weakness. Enough and not too much is their guide.

Gaza vs Israel represents the proof of the concept.

PUTIN-BIDEN MEETING

(Answer to question from Sputnik)

I can’t see any reason for Putin bothering unless it be curiosity to see for himself Biden’s state of mind. I do not expect anything to change — the Biden/Harris Administration is packed full of the people who fully embrace the numerous Russia conspiracy theories, invented many of them and who made US-Russia relations impossible.

As to Nordstream, Washington was trying to placate Berlin; it’s still trying to stop the pipeline.

Biden wants to show himself statesmanlike, important and in charge; Putin doesn’t have to.

The only possible interest is to bet whether Putin walks out when Biden starts up with the customary accusations.