RUSSIA, UKRAINE ET AL: WHAT NEXT?

First published Turcopolier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can hope. The stakes are high.

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

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

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

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko quoted by TASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILITARY MEASURES

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

DIPLOMATIC/INTERNATIONAL MEASURES

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

ECONOMIC MEASURES

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

SUBVERSIVE MEASURES

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

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

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

Security is mutual:

if all feel secure, then all are secure;

if one feels insecure, then none is secure.

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

George Kennan foresaw this a quarter of a century ago:

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

MACKINDERGARTEN LESSON

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

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

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

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland.

Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island.

Who rules the World Island commands the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO’S ON FIRST?

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

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

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

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

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

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, in Spanish,

(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?