Is American Warfighting Doctrine Hardwired for Failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When was the last time the USA won a war?

When was the last time US trained troops fought effectively?

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

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

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

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

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

Air power and weapons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NATO Would Probably Lose a War Against Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump-Putin phone call

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Day One

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

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

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

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

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

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

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

President Trump echoes President Adams two centuries later:

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

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

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

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

Shining instead of bombing.

Trump, Tillerson, Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s in Charge in Washington?

(Question from Sputnik. Something or other is happening somewhere or other in the interstices of the American political machine regarding Syria. But something else is happening somewhere else. What do I think?)

The problem with the question as posed is that it assumes that there is somewhere one can find, if only one can dig deep enough, can detect the last vital piece of information, can parse a Delphic utterance, A Plan in Washington about Syria.

Well, I no longer believe it: I don’t believe that anyone is in charge in Washington. The Saker introduced me to a new Russian word the other day: недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements. He suggest that the US Administration is paralysed by the election and the possibility of a President Trump. Perhaps he’s right as to the reason, I don’t know, but I agree with the diagnosis: I can’t see any sign that anyone is in charge in the “exceptional nation”.

Consider that US Secretary of State John Kerry, after lengthy and tedious negotiations, signed on to a cessation of fire agreement in Syria. In a properly-run country that would be a done deal. A week later, a Syrian Army position is attacked by the US military (with a highly improbable involvement of allies. Several of whom do not even operate the A-10s and F-16s used). By accident of course: another “regretful” error from “the greatest military in the history of the world“. These “errors” all go the same way, don’t they? real errors, one would think, would be more evenly distributed, wouldn’t they? Just before that news had stopped reverberating, an aid convoy was attacked. On cue, NATO’s go-to “independent” fact checker produces a photo that, he says, proves Russia did it. In fact, to anyone who can think for a moment, the photo is obviously faked and actually proves that neither Russia (nor Syria) attacked the convoy. The carelessness of the faked-up accusation is another indication of the incapacity to either make or deliver on an agreement by Washington.

The US foreign minister signs an agreement that the US military blows up and a (clumsy) fake atrocity is produced to divert attention from that. Then US Secretary of State John Kerry says he’ll never speak to the Russians again, but soon does so.

So what are we to conclude?

This does not sound like a country with an orderly and effective chain of command.

Недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements.

Indeed.

Thoughts on the Coup Attempt in Turkey

There is still a lot that is murky about it, the most murky being US involvement and foreknowledge, but I believe some conclusions can be drawn.

  1. There was a real, home-grown coup being plotted against Erdoğan. It probably combined Gülenist and Kemalist elements. While these two seem unlikely allies, coup alliances – especially ones planning to assassinate the leader – are animated more by what they are against than by what they are for. The plotters often cannot think past The Deed: Brutus and Cassius expected that with Caesar gone, the “republic” would re-appear; the killers of Sadat imagined that with “Pharaoh” gone, all would be well. But all they got was another Caesar and another “Pharaoh”. Thus a temporary coming together of Gülenists and Kemalists to overthrow the “Sultan” is not impossible.
  2. This coup had been in preparation for some time and Turkish security got wind of it (“received information” is the phrase being used) in time to warn Erdoğan to get out just ahead of the assassins. The story that Russian intelligence had picked up the clues and forewarned him is very believable. Russian signals intelligence has always been very good and Moscow would have been monitoring communications in Turkey because of the fighter plane shoot-down. It is very plausible – especially if, as Ankara now says, the shoot-down was orchestrated by the plotters – that Russian intelligence would have come across the plot. If so, it would immediately be wondered – and I’m sure is being wondered in what we should probably get used to calling the Sublime Porte again – whether US intelligence had also got wind of it but didn’t warn Erdoğan.
  3. Despite earlier speculation, this coup was much more serious and came much closer to success than was thought at the time. If Erdoğan had been killed and if the people had not come out in the streets, we’d today be looking at something completely different. (It is time to abandon the speculation that Erdoğan orchestrated it himself.)
  4. Washington and the coup. I said that this question was murky and I expect that it will remain so. And the principal reason for this is simply “which Washington”? The CIA? Some faction inside the CIA? The neocon cabal that infests the State Department? The humanitarian bombers who populate Obama’s retinue? Some faction in the US military? Somebody in the US staff at the İncirlik airbase? The US Ambassador? Would these/some/other American officials have given active encouragement to the coup plotters or a (deniable) misstatement that was taken as encouragement? Did US intelligence get wind of it and not pass the message on? Did they pass it up to the political level and it didn’t pass it on? I strongly suspect that neither President Obama nor US Secretary of State Kerry could answer the question either: nobody seems to be in charge in today’s USA. So, the extent of US involvement at some level or other to some degree of activity or encouragement will probably not be know for decades. But see below.
  5. Whatever the reality may be, Erdoğan and his people are blaming Washington. There have been enough direct and indirect statements to make that plain. The demand – and demand it is – to hand over Gülen is being presented as a test. I expect Washington to “fail” the test if for no other reason than the fact that decision-making is too fractured. Evidence of US involvement will be looked for and will be found or invented. Washington’s support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units just strengthens Ankara’s hostility.
  6. Erdoğan has used the coup as an opportunity to accelerate and widen the purge that he was already doing. Enough of the actual plotters and potential sympathisers have been neutralised that he is coup-proof for the foreseeable future. He is fully in charge and has demonstrated his substantial street power, Added to which he can now blame any past foolish decisions (like the Russian fighter plane shoot-down) on the plotters. So, he is free to re-tell the past, he has proved his power and he may now do what he wants.
  7. Atatürk made a kind of compact with the population: adopt European behaviours and, eventually, Europe will accept you as “European”. For years I have wondered what would happen when Ankara finally understood that that was never going to happen. We will now find out. Kemalist Turkey is gone. My guess is that what will replace it will be something that could be called “neo-Ottomanism” – authoritarian but with a degree of popular support, predominantly Islamic but with a degree of tolerance, looking much more to the south and east. But the future structure will take time to evolve and, at the end of the day, it might cover a smaller territory and it may get rather violent.
  8. The Turkish Armed Forces have been severely weakened and, with the emphasis on domestic security now predominant, to say nothing of extensive purges of the high command, the time of military adventures in Syria is over. The war against the Kurds will also likely have to wind down.
  9. I believe that Erdoğan and his people began a sort of cost-benefit analysis recently and, just before the coup, we saw the first moves with his overtures to Israel and Russia. First, the cost side of the ledger. Turkey is never going to be admitted into the EU (not that that is so attractive these days); following Washington’s lead in the Middle East has brought it disaster and defeat; rightly or wrongly, Ankara believes Washington has betrayed it. The Western orientation is mostly on the cost side of the ledger. On the benefit side, Ankara has learned how much Russia’s enmity can cost it (and, if its true that Moscow tipped Erdoğan off to the coup, what Russia’s friendship can give). Then there are the future benefits: tangible in the shape of becoming Russia’s gas spigot to southern Europe and the potentially enormous gains from China’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy. Therefore, a simple cost-benefit calculation shows that a Eurasian turn has many benefits for Turkey while the status quo has about paid out.
  10. A more brutal calculation would have Erdoğan & Co considering the correlation of forces. Who’s winning? Which is the side to bet on? In 2000 the USA was by far the most powerful country on Earth; most powerful in every measurable way. But it’s been at war ever since and it’s losing these wars; it has outsourced the manufacturing power that was the foundation of its power last century; its foreign activities are fumbling and incoherent. As to the other Western standard-bearer, no one could possibly pretend that the future of the EU is bright. The power of the West is fading and what remains is incompetently managed. Since 2000, on the other hand – although the consumer of Western media absurdities would be unaware of it – under very capable management, Russia has grown in wealth and power. The same goes for China – steady economic and military growth combined with intelligent and wise leadership. If you were running Turkey, with which would you throw in your fate? Especially when your Western “allies” have so frequently spurned you? And may just have tried to kill you?
  11. Moscow will accept the turn but will demand behavioural change. No more backdoor support to Daesh through oil smuggling; no more safe havens for Daesh fighters; no more interference in Syria. But it will continue its patient approach and allow a certain amount of dissimulation from Ankara. Moscow will pretend to believe (and maybe it’s true) that the fighter was shot down by coup plotters and other face-saving statements from Ankara as Erdoğan rewrites the past.
  12. Turkey will leave NATO. What is not clear is the timing and the optics. I can easily imagine a gradual pulling back that doesn’t quite ever formally leave. But, if the Eurasian turn is indeed happening, then NATO is gone. It no longer brings Ankara advantages and that goes doubly given the apparent use of İncirlik base as a location of some of the coup plotters. Washington is starting to understand that İncirlik is, in fact, changing from an asset into a liability and it will be interesting to see what it does: certainly it’s time to move the nuclear weapons out. (Vide the New Yorker piece: “How secure are the American hydrogen bombs stored at a Turkish airbase?“.)
  13. Things could get rather violent. It’s too early to tell. Erdoğan’s call to take to the streets to stop the coup was bravely answered and that may be enough. His purge is very extensive and may eliminate the fifth column (as well as many innocents). It all depends on how strong the internal glue of the country is and that we cannot know – the distance between stability and bloody chaos in any society is shorter than most people like to think. And the American regime changers, who have brought so much destruction in such a short time to Turkey’s neighbours, have a new target, albeit with greatly restricted access and levers with which to do it.
  14. (What follows is sheer off-the-wall speculation. The Ottoman Empire was an extremely multi-ethnic and multi-confessional enterprise. Through the millet system, the Sultans allowed and managed these differences. Atatürk tried to create a European-style country inhabited by an ethnicity he invented called “Turks”. Descendants of the people of Göbekli Tepe, the Trojans, Bithynians and Miletians, Caucasians, surviving Greeks and Armenians, Seljuks and Kurds would now all officially be “Turks” just as Bretons, Burgundians and Occitan-speakers were officially “French”. To a considerable degree this fiction succeeded (as it has for that matter in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and so on) but the Kurds never accepted being called “Turks” or “Mountain Turks”. In a neo-Ottoman Turkey, however, they can again become “Kurds” (but never separatists). But, if the Kurds really want independence, this is probably the best chance they have ever had to take it.)

Trump and Foreign Policy

Asked by Sputnik what I thought of Trump’s foreign policy statements, I said:
“The reality is that, while US Presidents are rather constrained in what they can do domestically, they can start wars wherever and whenever they want ad libitum. So, if Trump is less willing to start wars — as he sounds is if he is — he should be able to refrain from doing so. A little inaction would be better — as he memorably said, if former Presidents had taken a day at the beach instead of starting wars in the Middle East, everybody would be better off.”

Strong Horse and Weak Horse

(Question from Sputnik asking for my reaction to this news item

MOSCOW, June 30 (Sputnik) – Western governments are in secret negotiations with the leadership in Syria and echo the United States’ anti-government stance out of fear of upsetting Washington, the Arab republic’s President Bashar Assad said Thursday.)

A most interesting report – if true and unexaggerated, of course.

Bin Laden spoke of the strong horse and the weak horse and the natural desire of people to side with the strong. The USA is indeed a mighty power but its record of foreign policy and war, while immensely destructive, is one of failure and incompetence. Its efforts in East Africa, Libya, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia: all failures. Worse, each failure sets the opportunity for the next failure. Still worse is the incoherency of Washington’s purposes.

With respect to Syria, just in the last couple of days we have had Erdoğan’s attempt to repair relations with Moscow and another failure of a US-created “moderate rebel” force.

Moscow, on the other hand, has used the full range of power carefully and skilfully.

It would not, therefore, be surprising if allies, wary of being sucked deeper into Washington’s cycle of repetitive failure – especially with the prospect of still more, and yet more, under a President Clinton – were exploring options to get out from under.

Assad, like Putin, has proved to be a much stronger horse than they were told he would be.