The key to diplomacy, and negotiation, is knowing just as much about the view from the vantage of the party on the other side of the table as he (or she) knows about the view from their own side of the table. Unless you are willing and able to see the board from the other side, put yourself completely in the other side’s position, you will invariably fail to reach an equitable solution. For most of the past quarter of a century America has relied on mediocre political ideologues, affirmative action appointees and complete novice political campaign contributors to set and advance its “foreign policy”. The Secretary of State position and very many of State’s top “under-secretary” positions have become permanent affirmative action slots used to buy the votes of women. Over 70% of our ambassadors now have zero experience in diplomacy and often zero knowledge of the countries in which they are supposed to represent the best interests of the American people. A lot of these people sit around in their US government palaces sucking their thumbs, or tinkering with local dynamics they don’t fully understand, and when things inevitably blow up in their faces, they invariably fall back on their very own “Big Club” – the US military – to come running in to fix the messes. And, even worse, American “foreign policy” undergoes dramatic shifts every time an election places a new party in the White House and sometimes even when someone influential just decides to “re-set” things mid-stream.
It’s All Just Murky Mush
Most of what passes for statements on US foreign policy today simply defies common sense, as if the speakers were operating in an alternate universe while using thought processes that make sense only to themselves. This is especially true when there’s a military component to the statements. These people seem to start with some absurd presumption about a foreign event and then offer manufactured considerations in order to arrive at a “solution” that was already pre-determined – regardless of the fact that the original presumption was just wrong. The only person at or near the top in Washington for the past 25 years who had actually earned the trust to know what he or she was doing with regard to American foreign policy was Colin Powell; he had served 35 years as a US Regular Army officer, four years as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, two years as National Security Advisor and four years as Secretary of State. Unfortunately, his State tenure was overshadowed by White House people and political opponents who had zero understanding of the contemporary military or modern war and just couldn’t get their brains around the fact that the conventional Persian Gulf War in 1991 was a unique, and entirely conventional, situation. That war had been directed by the last experienced and knowledgeable Commander-in-Chief (Bush Senior) who actually knew what he was doing, knew how to state a clear mission and craft a coalition, and knew when it was time to stop before getting bogged down in a stagnant unconventional war for which the US military simply was no longer prepared. (General Powell also suffered under what faces all people selected to head US government agencies in today’s world: an entrenched and very powerful bureaucracy that exists first and foremost to serve itself and its labor union, damned anything else.)
Except for some elected members of Congress, who don’t know any more about the subject (or the military) than the average Ninja warrior at the barber shop, most of those involved with setting American “foreign policy” since 1992 have been women, either on stage or in the White House and State shadows. But American women have never been the least bit interested in the view from the other side; they have simply forged ever ahead incessantly imposing their own views on everyone else, from birth onward. Put that kind of never-challenged arrogance on top of the world’s single super-power, and problems everywhere are guaranteed. It seems to be beyond the capability of American women to accept that not everyone “thinks just like me”; they firmly believe that the board has only one side – “my side” – and that everyone else has the responsibility to ensure whatever “rights” women decide to demand for themselves. And, even worse, they’ve infected very many of their clones with the same myopic self-interested arrogance, an arrogance that simply views their own side in a vacuum, in isolation, allows them to force their way to what they want – with little intellectual discipline, almost no breadth of knowledge and experience, and even less consideration to what comes next, to the “unintended consequences” of faulty “thinking”.
Since most of that “thinking” has defied rational analysis, why would any American military man want to risk his life in adventures or wars engineered and abruptly halted by such people? Can anyone even imagine a Hillary Clinton screaming to the people’s elected representatives in Congress, “What difference does it at this point make?!”, if the Benghazi dead in her bombed-out Libya had been women? You can bet your last dime that, if those dead had not been four men, it damned well would have made a difference – to her, to women, and especially to women voters. Would such a woman also be so cavalier with an army of men, sacrificed in an effort that had zero impact on the national defense posture of the United States just to show how ignorantly and irresponsibly “macho” she could be with the lives of others?
(On 19 June 2014, I listened to a US Marine staff sergeant, a double amputee wounded in Iraq, speak on live TV for five minutes about Iraq. This sergeant made far more strategic sense in his impromptu responses than princess Hillary Clinton makes in a half hour of regurgitating memorized nebulous political nonsense. That same day a US Marine corporal was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving the life of a fellow Marine by sacrificing his own body. Both of these “expendable” men are enlisted American soldiers, and they understand the bigger picture, the broader context, the reasons why they are willing to make the great sacrifices for the future, what responsibility and leadership and accountability are really all about. These are the “someone else” in our society; without them, we would be nothing special at all. What does it say about us that we are so willing to throw away the best of us in stupid adventures just to buy votes from those who do nothing? These guys understand far more about what they’re doing than the total incompetents who engineer their actions.)
“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.” – Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), Prussian geographer, naturalist, explorer and author of “Kosmos“, whose work laid the foundation for the field of biogeography.
The single greatest characteristic of American “foreign policy” since the fall of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet communism in 1990 is a kind of emotional schizophrenic “thinking” that came with the sudden emergence of the US military as a brief single super-power. Having nothing to fear from adversaries suddenly obviated the need for its owner-rulers to think with any real seriousness about the future. This is why politicians thought it was a safe period for affirmative-action princesses to parade around the globe with their fawning court entourages representing privileged American women. But no one ever thought that the practice, like so many other twisted “temporary” practices in our culture, would become permanently institutionalized. It will probably surprise most Americans to learn that their nation’s foreign policy is now far more manipulated by Europeans than by any Americans sitting in high office in Washington; the western Europeans, especially the British and French, and to a lesser extent the Germans, are world class experts at manipulating America for their own interests than Americans are at directing their own nation to its best interests. And now even the Russian team makes ours look like children. How do they do this? They use a far better educated and experienced “elite” class of professionals to take maximum advantage of American ignorance, emotionalism and naiveté. These are people who have actually viewed the world. The simple truth is that America is now woefully unable (or unwilling) to field very knowledgeable, disciplined and innovative minds well schooled in international strategy and negotiation like Kissinger, Dulles or Marshall, and the Europeans know it. We put up mediocre celebrity figureheads standing in front of a really huge military brute; they put up intelligent thoroughly schooled professionals standing in front of their astute national interests. The US military ends up being the Europeans’ trained working dog on a leash, compliments of the US taxpayer. Our current “national security team” looks more like the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight” headed by the predictably bumbling Vice President ever eager to curry favor with our super-majority of women voters, most of whom don’t care about anything beyond themselves, least of all about foreign affairs or wars or dead soldiers. Everyone knows us better than we know ourselves.
You can see a lot of this European influence very starkly every year, for example, when it comes time to commemorate and honor the World War II landings in Normandy France. While no one should ever belittle the great bravery and sacrifice of those Greatest Generation soldiers, it is usually forgotten that Europe was only half the war for America, that there was another half of the equation that was of little or no concern to the Europeans. But it was of enormous concern to Americans and their soldiers. The American invasion later of Okinawa was greater, bloodier and far more horrific than that of Normandy, but most Americans don’t know the other half of the story because the Europeans keep everything focused on themselves, and our “leaders” mindlessly go along with that fawning flow. (Is this simply because Europe is a more desirable June vacation destination for those in government and the media?) It’s the same with most “history” known by Americans: there’s that select part of the story that is incessantly advanced in isolation by special interests, and then there’s the rest of the story that gets lost in the propaganda stampede. So, right at the start, American “knowledge” is heavily filtered.
Nine times out of ten the last thing ever considered by those deciding American “foreign policy” when they send the US military forth on missions that have absolutely nothing to do with “defending the nation” is what is in the best long-term national security interests of their own nation. And even that ignorant “thinking” shifts dramatically every time a new administration takes over in Washington, when new rulers decide that soldiers committed to die in wars started by “someone else” were just “acceptable collateral damage” signifying nothing, that the US military can just pick up the marbles it has left and go home. “Never mind.” (See Footnote #1 for a summary of the Iraq and Afghanistan political shifts that had nothing to do with military strategy.) Such things may be of little concern for those who come and go for brief periods in that military, or who temporarily fill civilian affirmative action positions of “leadership” directly impacting that military, but for those career military professionals charged with the long-range stability of the nation’s defense posture, it’s worse than trying to keep a row boat steady in a cyclone. Apparently no civilian placed “in charge” is able to think further ahead than next week, so we look like ridiculous world Keystone Kops running hither and yon swatting flies while systematically undermining the overall global foundation upon which the nation stands. We steadily aggravate the larger long-term picture by creating more problems that are the “unintended consequences” of our own deeply flawed short-term “thinking”. And most of that “thinking” seems first and foremost designed for nothing more than immediate domestic political advantage.
We like to use simple terms, like “terrorists”, “al Qaeda”, and then try to make our asinine arguments fit neatly into those simple terms – for no other reason than the accurate all-encompassing “Islamic militant extremism” description has too many words for simple minds to handle at one time. Broad terms like “terrorists” allow bureaucrats to lump all sorts of disgruntled domestic citizens into the same camp as those members of an armed foreign enemy – very murky “thinking” that is exceedingly dangerous on the home front. Specific terms, at the same time, allow politicians to make separate distinctions, to view individual foreign elements in isolation, as if they do not fit integrally into one ideologic whole loosely aligned and united in dedicated militant opposition to all of western Judeo-Christian ideology – very murky “thinking” that is exceedingly dangerous on the foreign front. “It’s not “al Qaeda”; it’s “the Taliban”.” The distinction is meaningless. The West, mainly the United States and Europe, is engaged in a global unconventional war with an ideology, an ideology that seeks nothing less than the total destruction of its own ideology (if anyone can actually define “Western ideology” anymore) and the forced imposition of another ideology. Is that simple enough? (Now the challenge is to articulate just what we do stand for, now that it’s all been turned to mush by countless self-serving “special” twits demanding a million rights devoid of responsibility.) Just what is it that you want me to defend!? Do you want me to defend the same destructive actions and trends at home that others are engaged in abroad? That’s just asinine. If you can’t get your own act together, explain just what we are doing and why, in clear concise language that actually makes sense, that people can understand and rally behind, then how can you expect me to figure out what I’m supposed to do abroad? Just use “IME” (for Islamic militant extremism) if that’s easier. “United we stand; divided we fall.” It’s just that simple, and inevitable.
Tell me just who the enemy is, and I will tell you that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
If a guy like me, who has been dealing with this stuff all his life, doesn’t understand the civilian “thinking” behind American “foreign policy”, how can the average American ever figure it out? It certainly is never adequately explained by those making the decisions. And the political chattering class does an excellent job of thoroughly confusing everything with utter nonsense and emotional swill presented as “expertise”. (There are few things easier than pontificating nonsense from the very safe sidelines, especially if no one ever holds you accountable for your nonsense.) One minute the President must go to Congress for military authority; the next minute he can do whatever he wants to do with the lives of others. One minute we’re engaged in “policing a criminal conspiracy”; the next minute we’re engaged in a “war against a dedicated military enemy”. One minute it’s a job for FBI cops who are not soldiers; the next minute it’s a mission for military special ops who are not cops – and each operates under different sets of international law. One minute detained people are accused criminals held without constitutional protections; the next minute they are prisoners of war subject only to the Geneva Conventions. One minute it’s illegal to imprison foreign enemy fighters without US constitutional due process; the next minute it’s legal to summarily execute American citizens overseas by remote control without US constitutional due process. Foreign enemy terrorists must be afforded Constututional legal protections such as open trials, but basic Constitutional protections afforded all American citizens such as search and seizure limits can be routinely violated. The “Arab Spring” is a truly wonderfully glorious thing … except when it doesn’t go the way we thought it would go, and except when it was set in motion by the other domestic political party. What kind of thinking leads us to prefer killing groups of people by remote control rather than deal with the “messiness” of taking specific individual enemy fighters prisoners? We are for “self-determination”, but only when the “self-determination” goes in the direction we want. Is the US military supposed to win wars in defense of the nation, or to play expendable moronic servant for federal police forces, diplomats and other “special” people brandishing about the royal “we” for their own self-aggrandizement? Just why is it so hard for people with zero understanding of the differences between conventional and unconventional warfare to come to grips with either? Why would you ever afford rights to members of an armed enemy force that you don’t even apply to members of your own military? And it ALL depends on nothing more than which view is more advantageous to the muddled politicians and bureaucrats invoking them.
You’d think that fifteen years would be enough time for this rabble of political nitwits to figure it out and come up with a constant plan that makes sense.
Whenever Europeans and English-speaking people use the flattering term “Leader Of The Free World”, you have to ask them (if you have your own brain) to explain what they really mean by that old “Cold” War title in today’s world. If you wait long enough through the sputtering nonsense, you’ll discover that what the term really means now is this: The person who occupies the White House is the only idiot on the planet who is willing to buy domestic votes by throwing away their own soldiers to fight and die in other people’s stupid wars, wars of no real consequence to their own country at all, and preferably without the prior approval of the US Congress. This frees those tossing around the term from even considering doing such hard stuff themselves, including paying for it. Now isn’t THAT a noble aspiration? It’s truly amazing what you can do with bullshit when there’s absolutely no real danger or cost to you at all. It’s cheap fawning praise designed to trick morons.
The only conclusion that a rational person can reach is that the incompetent bureaucrats and politicians running this circus don’t know what they’re doing, can’t even think with reasonable clarity. (See “The News“.) No “leader” can begin to explain our actions with any actual logic – apparently because no “leader” understands what they’re doing, or why. It’s all ignorant emotional mush scattered around by girly people who never learned how to think, much less ever learned anything about their own military. Whenever I listen to the women whom the State Department uses as “spokespersons” I feel like I’m listening to programmed machines sent from another planet with faulty software. It’s a whole bunch of people who just don’t even know that they’re trying to operate WAY beyond their competence levels. It’s all emotion-based wishful thinking operating totally beyond realities, totally outside any logical analysis about setting responsible priorities within all considerations so that the most important things can be addressed meaningfully now within existing resources and capabilities and in context of all other things that are also being addressed, and the lower priority things can be addressed as soon as that becomes realistically feasible. (It’s a bit like responsible adults setting up and managing a budget that includes a savings account for the future. But who does that – now that “someone else” is responsible for ensuring “my” rights?)
And no seems to notice that this single super-power has been steadily losing ground for the past decade against an enemy that does not possess a single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone. What that enemy does have is one dedicated and united sense of identity and purpose, and it is that sense of identity and purpose that will enable them to eventually prevail. People who don’t stand for anything except “me” in utopian isolation, all conveniently ensured by “someone else”, will never be able to stand against those who have zero doubt about who they are, what they stand for, where they’re going, what they are willing to sacrifice, and why. We are a people who don’t even care about properly educating their own children, who can’t even be bothered to have and raise enough future taxpayers to pay for their own entitlements, to bail them out of loans and mortgages and other voluntarily assumed obligations they couldn’t meet, who need to constantly import many millions of others just to keep their society viable, who incessantly demand changes to the rules to better suit “me” at the expense of “us”, at the expense of even a single unifying national identity. When a society starts even importing the children it needs for the future, you know that society is finished. How can anyone defend that asinine sense of demanded unearned birthright entitlement?
Sometimes this American soldier just feels like saluting them all with a middle finger. How can you expect me to “defend the nation” with my life when you are not even willing to “defend our society” with universal standards?
Just what arrogance makes us think that others would countenance interference in their internal affairs that we would never tolerate in ours? (Well, some of our native morons might welcome it, but such idiots, concerned only about themselves, have nothing of their own invested in America.) What educational process teaches its people to view foreign events in total isolation, irrespective of history, geography, sociology, anthropology, religious differences, economics, politics, national defense, psychology, neighbors, group dynamics, language differences, military strategy, tribal animosities, propaganda, national pride? We seem capable only of viewing a speck of sand in the Sahara without beginning to understand the desert, while often even forgetting that there’s even a desert there. It’s all short cuts, easy answers and quick fixes, intended for the child’s two minute attention span.
The US Military
Just imagine yourself as the US military that has to constantly react to the demented dance made up on the fly by the twits running American “foreign policy”, mainly for domestic political points. You can very easily go stark raving mad. Anyone who changes their mind with every shift in the political breeze simply doesn’t stand for anything, doesn’t even know who or what they are. It’s all about whatever is best for “me” at any given moment in time. After an inability to view the board from the other side, the greatest failing of elected politicians today, as well as senior people appointed to high influential office, is an abject lack of understanding of the US military or the military matters that are usually integral to foreign policy decisions. Just what was it in the background of a United States senator that made him think that managing to get a new US Navy ship named after his land-locked state is a meaningful contribution to the public’s understanding and support of US military people committed to two simultaneous deadly wars – a pathetic “accomplishment” that can then be trumpeted in self-promoting re-election campaigns? This kind of ignorant nonsense now seems endemic to our politicians, our appointees and our bureaucrats. It’s all old platitudes dutifully recited on cue, with zero understanding of why. How is it even possible for such a huge gulf to develop between military citizens and their nation’s other citizens, including in the very people elected to represent them all? This senator represents the state with the nation’s highest per capita of citizens with prior and current military service; just whose votes was he “winning” with such embarrassing pandering? (You can perhaps make some allowance for the senator when you consider that less than a 0.7% of Americans these days has any credible military experience at all; the rest just never tire of using that royal “we” – despite the fact that 80% of young American today can’t even qualify to serve in their military, to get their foot in the door, much less as full-time professional career soldiers continuously for decades.)
And then there are all those trite terms and phrases used to describe “military stuff” – lifted right out of Hollywood movies, put there by writers expert only in selling fanciful fiction as solid fact. Most people using them have no idea what they’re talking about, but they do make nice emotional clichés. (Our citizens are far more “educated” by Hollywood than they are by our deplorable schools.) There are few things more asinine than people who get all aflutter at the bang of a firecracker who presume to judge the actions and culture of soldiers trying to stay alive under deadly fire on the battlefield. Everyone tosses around utter nonsense as “military principles” as if they were god’s gospel. One among several heard quite often, for example, is “leave no man behind”. Of course this is the ideal, but the very nature of war dictates that this solemn entreaty will very often simply not be possible, that mission accomplishment dictates whether living or dead buddies will be recovered now or later, or never. That’s just the way the real world works, and always has. American soldiers know and understand the real world. War is not a silly exercise in perfect-world parlor games where no evening players are expected to get hurt, or killed.
(The US military is still trying to find 1,700 of the 2,650 men who were “left behind” just during the Vietnam War; they remain “missing”, “unaccounted for” – forty years after that war ended. Even after the US military was withdrawn from the region, covert special operations continued for years into Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in efforts to locate American men who might be held prisoner in unforgiving jungles. Dedicated US military teams are currently operating all over the world in concerted public efforts to find and recover more than 83,000 American men “missing” from World War II, the Korean War, the “Cold” War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War, plus the many dozens of smaller “undeclared” US wars, military operations and humanitarian missions around the globe over just the past century. The end of the “Cold” War opened up such opportunities in huge expanses of the globe that had been denied to such teams for the previous fifty years, but no one is certain just how many tens of thousands more remain missing from World War I and earlier. Many thousands even remain missing from our own Revolutionary and Civil wars, right in our own front yard. All of these men, especially, have fully earned the extra effort required, when it’s reasonably possible and safe to do so.)
And, no, you do NOT trade one voluntary junior American soldier for five top enemy commanders; you send a military operation to recover that soldier if and whenever that becomes possible after a military risk-versus-gain analysis – UNLESS you have ulterior political objectives for which the soldier is just being used as a phony excuse. When I’m out there on the far front edge, in a worthy mission with a clear purpose, I want the enemy to know that they have only one choice – to engage me on the battlefield or not. In today’s world, if they think about taking me prisoner as their primary objective, they need to know that my brothers will bring down the wrath of god on them at any moment, even if it costs my own life. I do NOT want them to know that I may be their ticket to far greater rewards. I am an American soldier; I am nobody’s pawn, no one’s “useful idiot”. I do not think like you, nor would I want to think like you. In fact, if I am taken prisoner today, I would greatly prefer that the bureaucrats in my very safe rear simply send in some of their remotely controlled missiles to obliterate me and everything within 250 yards of me – because I now have every reason to expect that I will be treated no less harshly than the moronic thugs on my side in the very safe rear treat prisoners delivered to them.
The United States of America is NOT a very tiny Israel fighting every day to remain alive in the long shadow of the Holocaust, a tiny country in which all citizens serve in its military. Anyone who engages in such American prisoner duplicity HAS to know that they are setting a very dangerous precedent that will impact all future American soldiers – everywhere. Regardless of the immediate rationale, such a precedent for America is just incredibly stupid; the US military has people, often in small and quite vulnerable groups, wearing readily identifiable uniforms, constantly spread all over the globe (and very often without weapons). An American soldier is an American soldier. Period. There are NO other artificial identifying factors – such as gender, race, color, ethnicity, age, wealth, marital status, etc., that require “special consideration”. Here everyone plays by one set of rules that SHOULD apply equally to everyone. Were I a member of our current enemy, at the top of my target list now would be any American female soldier out there. We obviously would trade even bin Laden for her. There is nothing anywhere that says the other side cannot also undertake its own “renditions”, now that we have set that precedent, too. What kind of unthinking ignorance consents to such lunacy? When BOTH sides formally agree that the war has ended, that no further hostilities against any side will be undertaken, then you can start negotiating the exchange of any prisoners. Either your military is engaged in a war, or it isn’t. And if you can’t decide, then you have no business in any position of American responsibility. That soldier is NOT a boy; he is an adult soldier and fully responsible for his own actions, fully accountable for his own behavior, fully knowledgeable of the rules all American soldiers accept at the very beginning of their service to nation. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what sets him and all his buddies apart from the usual run-of-the-mill riff-raff takers in our society. No one should ever sully that important difference, by degrading all American soldiers to our society’s lowest common denominator. The US military does not employ a bunch of “special” little princesses.
Just why do you want those soldiers to risk their lives on the battlefield if all you’re going to do is release the enemy leaders they capture – so they can again threaten American lives? It’s just stupid. It’s just as stupid as paying, with one hand, dedicated border control agents to risk their lives securing our dangerous borders – while political ideologues are encouraging, with the other hand, illegal immigrants and their children to come enjoy the welfare state. It’s another version of the little boy on the beach trying to empty the sea into his hole in the sand. And most of the stupidity undertaken by ignorant American “foreign policy” experts today, most of whom evidence little more than visceral disdain for their own military, seems to have absolutely no consideration for the precedents they are setting that will inevitably come back to haunt their nation and its children down the road. It’s all about infantile “me”, and now.
If you listen to our politicians and bureaucrats you’d swear that all the problems of the world are America’s problems. This is especially true of Europe’s problems. Why is this? It seems like in 2015 we’re still stuck in 1980, and the mighty Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact is ten minutes away from raining nuclear bombs down on every major city in western Europe and America, too. Just what is it about that Big Bad Bogyman Russia? When you consider all the things that Russia is able to do with its budget, you have to wonder why Canada, for example, with a much larger budget, isn’t doing a LOT more on the global stage, such as sending routine missions to space, staging a highly successful winter Olympics, sending submarines under the polar icecap to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, running major military operations alone in war-torn Syria, etc.. Yet Canada, like all other western countries, depends on the US to “protect” it from .. Russia?
Sometimes, in the Real World, you just have to suspend simple logic. Germany’s budget alone is 3.8 times that of Russia, France’s is 3.7 times bigger, Italy’s 2.4, Britain’s 2.5. These four western European countries alone have a combined total budget that is 12.5 times larger than is Russia’s. So why are Europe’s problems our problems? After a full century of babysitting, have those comfortable twits still not learned to wipe their own behinds? The European Union represents nearly 200 million more people than Washington does and contributes nearly a quarter of global GDP, but Europe still depends on the United States to provide the lion’s share of its defense requirements. Europe as a political union can exist only when Europeans are willing to die for Europe, but as long as the dumb Americans are willing to spend their own tax money and have her own soldiers die for Europe, why would Europeans bother? Some provisions of the EU Constitution do allow countries to move forward on joint defense, but they have never been used. The EU global strategy document merely recommends ways to improve the state of defense affairs; creating a European army is not among them. (The US budget is 8 times bigger than Russia’s total budget. Does any sane person actually think that Russia is going to attack western Europe? Or the US? Is EVERYONE now a raving lunatic? This stuff is NOT rocket science. Or are we just chagrinned that Russia’s leaders are a hell of a lot smarter than ours?) When you sit in Moscow and view what is arrayed to your west, you see either an economic union or a military alliance, even without the US, that are each 25 times greater than your own. Is Russia another “mouse that roared?” (See “Russia And “NATO“.)
Now everyone is wringing their hands over Russian actions in Ukraine, in the Crimea, but no one asks how this came to be or what the role of the US was in driving those Russian actions. (The most recent crisis in Ukraine, and its consequences, including the highly predictable Russian reaction, was deliberately engineered by well-placed affirmative-action women employees of the US State Department. Even after their bombed-out Libya failed to produce the golden chariot that would whisk their Princess Hillary to the White House throne, these supremely arrogant “feminist” fanatics were undeterred. The lives of others are inconsequential in their quest for unearned power and glory; it’s all a birthright entitlement of the extremely privileged.) How is it even possible that “we” could have been caught so incredibly “off-guard” with what has been inevitable for at least the past decade simply because we never stopped viewing the Russian Federation as the Soviet Union? The world did NOT change on 11 September 2001; the world changed in 1990, and we still haven’t come to grips with that new world reality. No one can explain why Ukraine is more a problem for the United States than it is for the Europeans – who have long possessed a population and an economy larger than the United States. (And, of course, no one dares mention the important role of religion, Catholic and Orthodox, in the Ukrainian background mix – the Catholics pulling west to France, the Orthodox pulling east to Russia – in a dynamic centuries old, both in the context of Muslim Ottoman rule and British aristocratic interference, a dynamic that exploded in a deadly war in the Crimea just before the American Civil War.)
The fundamental problem with Ukraine is its deeply flawed legal system full of holes that facilitates capricious application of the law in a thoroughly corrupt state – a system inherited a quarter of a century ago from the old Soviet state, and never fixed but rather allowed to become ever more entrenched. It wasn’t so much a problem as long as Ukraine was on the Russian dole, but on its own is a recipe for guaranteed financial disaster and institutional collapse. And for a quarter of a century neither Europe or the US did anything to assist what was always a failed state piling up humongous bills, to Russia. (Ukraine is a lot like Iraq, with deep-seated group differences dating back at least to World War I unaddressed and still unresolved; each group is more interested in prevailing over the others than in reaching unifying compromise reasonably accommodating all groups.)
Tell me just who the enemy is, and I will tell you that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Is no one smart enough to realize that the most important ally we needed after 2001 was Russia, that we should have been doing all we could possibly do to build and strengthen a solid political-military strategic alliance with this key nation, regardless of all the silly little economic theories brandied about by the “masters of the universe” on Wall Street – who failed so miserably in Russia during the 1990s? (Now we are even so naïve that we impose economic sanctions as our best “solution”, that we dust off the same theories that failed just fifteen years earlier – simply because no one understood Mother Russia or the Russian people, presumed they are “just like me”.) The Allies tried economic solutions against Germany after World War I, which led directly to World War II. The US tried economic solutions against Japan to stop their advance in Asia, which led directly to Pearl Harbor and the loss of the Philippines. The real world is a LOT more complicated than simple-minded “economic solutions”. Does anyone think economic theories play a critical role for Islamic militant extremists? As predictable as rain for years, a small force of less than 2,000 of them just went into Mosul Iraq and took over the city of over 2 million people. Then they walked into a bank and walked away with well over $400 million. There were no nifty little theories necessary to continue funding their holy war against the West. (Then they went about picking up all sorts of abandoned weapons we had given to the Iraqi government – to continue their march on Baghdad.)
The current leaders of Russia are enormously smarter than are ours, and they are doing nothing that they haven’t broadcast for over a decade. We saw no need to listen simply because we thought we could just use the US military to bully our way through no matter what the Russians did to strengthen their position, to protect their own national security. We didn’t even see the need to consider that the US would react to moves by the other side were the situation reversed very similar to the manner in which Russia has reacted. How is it possible, for example, to ignore the “Cuban Missile Crisis” while dismissing how the Russians would react to the US placing a “missile defense” system right up next to Russia’s front door, rather than in a far more sensible and less threatening site as, say, the Black Sea (which Russia offered)? And just why is it America‘s responsibility to protect Europe from missiles anyway? Isn’t a century of babysitting these perpetual children enough?
Is there no one left in American government who knows how to examine the premises behind all this emotional chaotic scurrying around, hypnotized by whatever pops up from moment to moment in front of their faces? The only vague “strategy” we have is a brainless continuum of that devised for the “Cold” War by the Greatest Generation – a whole quarter of a century after the world for which that strategy was devised vanished – and no one is bright enough to figure out why that strategy no longer works. Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who built her reputation as an academic expert on Soviet Communist Russia, is the perfect example, as was her academic predecessor, Madeline Albright – born in Soviet communist Czechoslovakia and raised comfortably in London. Both share responsibility for the attacks of 11 September 2001, just as they do for Ukraine; neither could see the violent pent-up forces let loose in a world suddenly vacated by the Warsaw Pact, much less see the capabilities, consequences or focus of those suddenly released forces. Most Americans today don’t know if the US military exists to logically defend the nation (as always cited at their funerals and ceremonies) or to emotionally play World Cop in endeavors posing no threat to US national security. Most Americans today don’t even know the difference between the two purposes, are so naïve that they can be sold almost any nonsense politicians want to spin for their own domestic political advantage. Everyone learned the old text books, memorized the old test answers, but no one learned how to write new text books, devise new test questions, for an entirely different world. It’s all emotional nonsense with a two-minute attention span. And when it doesn’t go the way “we” had imagined, we “solve” the problem by firing a few generals to hide our own gross incompetence, our own pathetic predilection to keep looking back for emotional safety, not looking forward for strategic solutions.
(Male generals are the only people in our society who have “responsibility”, but who also can even be held accountable – mainly by being viciously vilified and summarily fired on a public stage. With no unions, lobbies, interest groups, voting blocs, lawyers, daytime talk shows, stampeding herds on “social” media, celebrity pop stars spewing brainless propaganda, etc., these are sitting-duck targets in the free-fire zone. And, even better, these patsies, everyone’s favorite sacrificial lambs, conveniently keep their mouths shut, too. They give up their rights to serve the American people, and they never stop paying the price, primarily for cowardly, duplicitous and inept politicians.)
“Just do the same things that others before you did.” It’s often said that looking back is the “safe” approach, that there’s no risk in looking back. But, in this case, there definitely is. “No one could have foreseen” is NOT a legitimate excuse for anyone who knows what they’re doing, what their job actually is, what responsibility and accountability it actually entails. The very reason why those positions exist is so that you will earn your right to occupy them by using your expertise, knowledge and special talents to see things coming before they get here – and then present cogent solution options before they became insoluble. Anyone can react to whatever suddenly pops up in front of them, even if it’s just to shift blame, to run and hide. The US military doesn’t have such options. People who know what they’re doing can see things coming, and then make adjustments to minimize impact.
Shaping American foreign policy in a very dangerous world is not a matter for parading around responsibility-free princesses so as to buy the votes of similar princesses; it requires an enormous amount of first-hand knowledge and experience with the real world as it exists, from the ground up, an ability to see the board from all sides, and a talent for planning at least five moves ahead. It’s a position of leadership – from the very risky front. It also requires a great deal of realistic understanding of the US Regular military, including its culture and values, its limitations as well as it’s capabilities, plus a willingness to accept full accountability for the responsibility that a foreign affairs office bestows – just as do military officers. If you make a mistake, fail, then you resign, go away – or be summarily fired. Whenever you see things suddenly “pop up” to “catch us off guard”, you know that people in high places have failed at their jobs. Why are such people never vilified and fired, made to very publicly “walk the plank”? Is failure at the expense of the nation just another of their many “rights” ensured by “someone else”? Who among us is so stupid as to think that all this stuff is just a game, of no real consequence? There is no “special” in “equal”.
Official American stupidity and incompetence toward Russia over the past twenty years (1992-2012), which recently finally bore its inevitable fruit in the Crimea and Ukraine, will continue to have major negative repercussions elsewhere for a long time. This is a problem we deliberately engineered, by childishly allowing stupid domestic politics to drive foreign policy and military actions with no constant overarching strategy in place as guidance. With Russia, it is not a simple matter of economics; it’s a very complex matter of culture. Our “experts” are privileged American women who have never known adversity, who have never been challenged, who are “special” people neatly absolved of responsibility for themselves or anyone else. Who among such privileged American women ever learned the lessons of Operation Barbarossa, the two-year siege of Leningrad, the relentless multi-sided atrocities in Ukraine, the battle of Stalingrad, the history of the Russian people and the Russian Orthodox church over the same period … when Americans were basking in the sunlight of a nation well protected on both sides by two enormous oceans, the effect of all that besieged history – from Napoleon to Stalin to Hitler to “NATO”- on the very psyche of the Russian people? (Stalingrad is Volgograd, just 600 miles east of Kiev, and Leningrad is St Petersburg, just 200 miles east of Helsinki.) These are privileged women so ignorant of even their own history that they could ignore the example of Pearl Harbor and take the French bait to engineer the stupid unprovoked eight-month bombing of a Libya that presented zero threat to the US. American women are world class whiners, but, in realty, compared to thousands of other groups, they’ve never had anything legitimate to whine about; this “entitled” privileged group is the very last you want setting America’s foreign policy agenda, much less its global strategy.
The 1941-44 siege of Leningrad is the most lethal siege in world history, with well over 2,000,000 deaths, perhaps half from starvation. This was more than five times deadlier than the combined bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Just what do you do with so many dead people while you’re trying to stay alive yourself – in a very confined space month after month, years on? (Just one cemetery inside that city contains the bodies of 500,000 people who died just during that siege.) Americans, least of all American women, cannot even imagine such relentlessly imposed horror. And Leningrad was just one point along an 800-mile-wide invasion front from the west, the largest and most destructive land invasion in world history. Just as there are still alive survivors of Pearl Harbor and the London Blitz, there are also today survivors of Leningrad’s 900 days in hell – and they are revered in Russia every bit as much as are survivors of the Holocaust. And this is just one of many such calamities inflicted on Russia over just the past century. Yet we expect Russia to join us in honoring Normandy, while dismissing their own Leningrad, the Battle of Stalingrad? You cannot begin to understand Mother Russia until you fully comprehend such cataclysmic history and its effect on Russian thinking, and if you attempt to approach Russia or “near-Russia” in any strategic sense without such history, psychology, culture and strategy foremost in mind, then you will inevitably fail, and rightly so. It is NOT a childishly simplistic matter of “the world according to very special me.”
(That experience was full of great stories. For example, Nikolai Vavilov, a renowned Russian botanist, organized a series of botanical-agronomic expeditions, collected seeds from every corner of the globe and created the world’s largest collection of plant seeds at his institute in Leningrad. As the Siege of Leningrad began, the Soviets ordered the evacuation of art from the Hermitage, but did not evacuate the 250,000 samples of seeds, roots, and fruits stored in what was then the world’s largest seedbank. A group of scientists at the Vavilov Institute boxed up a cross section of seeds, moved them to the basement, and took shifts protecting them. The seedbank was diligently preserved throughout. Those guarding the seedbank refused to eat its contents, even though by the end of the siege in the spring of 1944, nine of them had died of starvation. Vavilov himself had been arrested in 1940 under Stalin for allegedly wrecking Soviet agriculture, and died imprisoned and suffering from dystrophia in 1943 in the Saratov prison. The USSR Academy of Sciences later established the Vavilov Award (1965) and the Vavilov Medal (1968) in his honor, but what can be said of nine scientists who voluntarily died of starvation protecting seeds to feed humanity? While the US and Europe have flooded the world with movies about their own heroics during World War II, there are very few that show the war from the Russian side, a rather shameful fact considering that ally Russia actually bore the greater portion of the burden against the Nazis. One decent exception is “Enemy At The Gates” (2001, US/France/Germany) which has the colossally bloody Battle Of Stalingrad as the backdrop to a fact-based story about a Russian sniper soldier who became a Hero Of The Soviet Union.)
You simply can not after all that history establish mutual trust by mere words, especially when most words uttered by inept Western politicians, briefly on the stage for their own self-interests, have so often proven so empty, even duplicitous; you can only establish trust through meaningful actions that are perceived in exactly the same manner by both sides. (If I don’t believe 80% of what my politicians and bureaucrats are saying to their own people, then why should Putin believe what these slick wordsmiths are saying to him?)
Any arrogant State Department official operating in the shadows in Ukraine during yet another round of internal turmoil who failed to fully appreciate how her actions would be viewed by Russia is obviously operating WAY beyond her competence level. As the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland (53), along with a naïve Geoffrey Pyatt (51), who became US ambassador to Ukraine in August 2013, was even operating counter to the wishes of the EU in attempting to stack an “interim” government (which, in effect, was the un-elected result of a mob action coup) with her own hand-picked stooges. It has also been reported in a wide range of European publications that Pyatt and Nuland had been funneling money, propaganda publications and training, plus lining up Joe Biden’s on-scene encouragement, to anti-government demonstrators in Kiev, both directly and through a range of State and USAID contractors operating in the shadows. Only an idiot safely operating under the wing of the history’s biggest military brute could ever be so arrogant, so unconcerned with what she was brainlessly setting in motion.
Here is just one example of how the US Government has been operating in Ukraine: Natalie Jaresko (49) was born in Chicago to Ukrainian immigrant parents in 1965, earned a BS in accounting at DePaul and a Masters in pubic policy from the JFK School of Government at Harvard in 1989. A US citizen, she has lived in Ukraine since 1992, while holding a variety of high-level economics-related posts in Washington and Europe for the State Department, including Economics Consular officer for the US Embassy in Kiev. She has also dramatically increased her wealth through a number of investments in Ukraine funded by USAID via her venture capital asset management companies, including at least one grant for $150 million. Such arrangements make her and her companies hired contractors of State and USAID. i.e., the American taxpayer. On 2 December 2014, the Ukrainian president, widely considered a stooge of the US State Department, granted Jaresko Ukrainian citizenship and appointed her to the post of Finance Minister of Ukraine. She has two years to renounce her US citizenship. It is a wide range of such insider relationships involving the State Department and USAID, plus their contractors, in Ukraine over the past fifteen years that have been guaranteed to raise the suspicions of the Russian government – which maintains an extremely knowledgeable intelligence capability throughout Ukraine. Almost everywhere that capability looks at State, USAID and their contractors are privileged American women risking nothing. There is almost nothing that transpires in Ukraine, and especially in Kiev, that is not fully known to the Russian intelligence service – as it happens – and they are convinced that most of what happens is manipulated by the US government and its contractors.
And anyone who thinks that Russia would not react to any intention of moving a massive military alliance headed by an arrogant super-power right up to Russia’s front door and potentially cut it off from access to the Black Sea is a damned fool. Just the threat of a Ukraine in “NATO” was an absolute guarantee that Russia would have to act preemptively to preclude that eventuality before it became a fait accompli, before Russia no longer had free warm water access to the Mediterranean and the world’s western sea lanes. The US would do no less. (Jack Matlock, the last US ambassador to the Soviet Union: “The policy of expanding NATO and then threatening to do so to Ukraine and Georgia would have sent any Russian government, no matter how democratic, up the wall.” Any moron would have known this, so the US pushing both missiles and a military alliance right up to the Kremlin’s front door can only be viewed as purposefully antagonistic toward Russia.) Furthermore, the fact that Russia is not a super-power guarantees that her leaders will have to continue to seek every opportunity to undercut American adventures wherever they can, by using calculated brain-power to counter our impetuous bully-power to their own best national security interests. (And I, for one, am thankful that they will.)
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that it would be far better for both parties if the two were working closely together in a mutually beneficial military alliance actually designed for the great challenges of the 21st century. But that approach would require a degree of brilliance that is now apparently beyond American capabilities.
Tell me just who the enemy is, and I will tell you that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. (See Footnote #2 for the view of events in Ukraine from the perspective of the Russian president.)
Granted that Ukraine has been a European-neglected basket case since the fall of Soviet communism, but all of our approaches to Russia have been the exact opposite to what they should have been, ineptly designed to ignore or short-circuit repeated golden opportunities my nation needed for the NEXT century, definitely not with childish and ignorant “thinking” learned for the LAST century. Unlike the US and western Europe, Russia has no illusions about the existential threat presented to her by Islamic militant extremism all along her southern border. Furthermore, Russia is not doing anything that the US has not done over the past fifteen years, and much more, and far further from its borders; American actions have set the new precedents – from kidnapper “renditions”, “enhanced” interrogations, beyond-the-law quasi-government contractors, armed drones, proxy torturers, official bald lies, hired mercenaries, assassination “hit lists” (in the Oval Office!), “acceptable levels of collateral damage”, abject incompetence and criminal negligence without accountability, to massive domestic surveillance, search and seizure – throughout the world. And that world, and the US, will be paying the high price for generations. Anyone who speaks of Russia in terms of just one man is displaying truly gross ignorance; Russia is a democracy, and that one man, assisted by an extremely competent team, now happens to enjoy popularity ratings inside Russia, the largest country on the planet, that are two and three times higher than any “leader” in the US or Europe – while most intelligent Americans with a modicum of conscience hang their heads in shame. The US and European reaction to the inevitable Russian move on the Crimea in 2014 has managed to accomplish very quickly something that Putin has been trying mightily to accomplish with little success since he first took over the reins from Boris Yeltsin in 1999 – a resurgence of Russian nationalism. Thanks to stupidity on the part of the West, Russians are again proud to be Russians. It’s amazing when you think about it: That’s all it took.
John F. Tefft (65), a 42-year career US Foreign Service Officer, has just been confirmed (July 2014) as US Ambassador to Russia (by voice vote, which avoided public questioning of his past deeds or current views). Tefft previously served as the US ambassador to Ukraine (Dec 2009-Jul 2013), Georgia (2005-09), and Lithuania (2000-03), as well as deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy in Moscow (1996-99). He has a reputation as an “old-school” “Cold” War ideologue who is frequently at the center of conflict between Russia and its former republics or satellite states. Tefft’s appointment to Moscow may be beneficial inasmuch as he’s at least a professional diplomat, but more likely will be a net detriment inasmuch as his past activities do not put him in good stead with the Kremlin. This is primarily a factor of stupidity on the part of US politicians and State Department bureaucrats. Tefft was directly involved in two major flare-ups between Russia and the West over the past decade – Georgia and Ukraine.
The Georgia mess in 2008 involved a slick US-educated Georgian president who happened to be a family friend of Senator John McCain, another American politician who seems unable to accept that the Soviet Union no longer exists. WikiLeaks cables from 2008, when Tefft was ambassador to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, suggest he may have been conned by then-Georgian president Saakashvili into believing that Russia, not Georgia, initially fomented armed conflict in the Georgian region of South Ossetia. (Saakashvili, playing an extremely dangerous game, was hoping to sucker the US into waging his war of independence from Russia; the US didn’t bite, probably because there were US military experts right there on the ground watching what was actually going on, despite the propaganda blitz that filled western media.)
Then there’s Ukraine. John McCain in March 2014 slammed Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country” and criticized Obama for not providing “military assistance” to Ukraine – brilliant thuggish views that are certain to antagonize the Russians. But Tefft, as Obama’s ambassador to Ukraine, had been encouraging Ukraine to invest heavily in fracking technology to assist the country to become less dependent on Russian oil and gas. After Ukraine moved heavily in that direction, it turned out that the attorney son of the US Vice President, Hunter Biden, had been hired by a private Ukrainian company that promotes energy independence from Moscow and offered Biden a lucrative deal. (The company leases natural gas fields in the breakaway Russian-backed state of Crimea and is owned by a former government minister with ties to Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president.)
There ought to be a law that no one can fill any American diplomatic post or influential foreign affairs position anywhere without first serving at least one three-year foreign tour in the Peace Corps or the US Regular Army or Marines. You should be required to learn what the real costs of your stupidity are before you do it. (And it’s not just diplomats; today a lot of “diplomatic” work is now done in the shadows by commercial contractors. Some of those State Department contractors are busy manufacturing and disseminating propaganda, fomenting revolutions, etc., in countries like Cuba, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia. Many are women-owned companies, and most do their thing with the level of ignorance and incompetence usually expected. Using women-owned companies, of course, ensures that no one will ever be held accountable when things go wrong. It’s impossible to determine just when and how Congress authorized State to engage in such activities, but it’s not surprising. Women in Congress like Nancy Pelosi are fervently dedicated to putting as many women as possible on the government dole, under any subterfuge that works.)
On 20 May 2014 Russia announced a huge 30-year deal to sell Russian gas to China, a deal that could symbolize an important moment of transition as Russia’s gaze begins to look more towards the East than the West in economic and geo-political terms. Russia has also, like China, wisely stated its intention to place a permanent manned station on the Moon – something that the United States should have done decades ago. If the west wants to keep viewing Russia as an enemy that should just lay down and die, then Russia has no choice but to look elsewhere for its future. The rising political right in Europe is expected to gain at least a third of the seats in the EU parliament this month, and they are lobbying hard and loud for stronger European ties to Russia – to counter the Americans. Just contemplate the irony of that for a moment; we now scare even our strongest friends. But Russia is busy seeking other counters to the Americans on its own, and those counter moves will also undercut American interests in Asia, especially with China, as well as in the Mid-east. The US at this moment has deployed US Marine resources prepared to evacuate its diplomatic personnel from a rapidly disintegrating Libya, finds itself impotent with genocide and Islamic extremism in Syria and with nuclear weapons development in Iran, and watches both Iraq and Afghanistan slide ever backward. Soon the US will be even further back in history than 1984 – all the way back to 1964. Aren’t “we” just brilliant?
For the American Baby Boomers “history” began with their own miraculous arrival on the scene, and, as a consequence, they could never manage to find their own asses with both hands. It takes truly incompetent “foreign policy leadership”, left and right, to move the US thirty whole years – all the way back to the darkest days of the “Cold” War – and standing there flat-footed and silly, while forcing the US military to again counter an enemy state it had long put behind it with the fall of Soviet communism and the Warsaw Pact in 1990. And it must now do so while Islamic militant extremism continues to rise.
It’s long been an often-stated open secret that Russia seeks to “maintain its sphere of influence” in eastern Europe and “keep the western-led military alliance at arm’s length.” But it’s not a double objective; the first intention is designed to achieve the main objective. That “sphere of influence” is designed solely to keep “NATO” at arm’s length. To do that, Russia has to offer at least economic incentives, usually in the form of trade agreements, to “near-Russia” that match those loans, etc., offered by western Europe. But Russia just cannot afford to put whole countries on the dole – such as Ukraine expects, especially with regard to its really huge unpaid bills for Russian energy. A great deal of the pressure in Europe could be easily relaxed if the US would just stop pushing “NATO” membership, missiles and sea power right up to the Kremlin gates.
Political right (conservative) parties in late May 2014 made huge gains in the European Union Parliament and is quite vocal in its pro-Russian/anti-American stance. Garnering over a third of EU representation and strangely united with a smaller number in parties on the far left, they are in direct opposition to the predominate left-of-center “mainstream” majority, and believe that the US is trying to provoke a third World War through which Russia would be brought to its knees. These are citizens of our “allies”, of “NATO”, and they now have significant political power in Europe. While their numbers are not yet sufficient to form a majority, they are now large enough to command a loud voice and dramatically affect the future course of EU actions, including vis-à-vis the US and Russia. Very much like members of the American Tea Party movement, these parties see Europe as being in decline because of cosmopolitanism and pro-Americanism, ruled by elitist politicians and bureaucrats constantly imposing their own twisted socialist theories on the average citizen. “They don’t like globalization, and they don’t like the urban elite. They want to stand up for the little guy.” – Simon Hix, an expert on European politics at the London School of Economics. They see in Putin a leader who represents and champions their own views – which is no mean accomplishment for a guy who is constantly portrayed by the leftist elite in both the US and Europe as a “communist KGB thug” from Leningrad. (I actually am more impressed with some of Putin’s top advisors, such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, than I am with Putin himself, but the combination of his personality traits, military expertise and that top “brain trust” makes a formidable leadership team.)
If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. There will come a time when the mess you create will be just too much for others, including the US military, to clean up.
Leadership is NOT a birth right for “me”; it’s an earned responsibility – for others.
P.S. Here are some terms always tossed around by American politicians and the idle chattering class (including “diplomats” and “academics”): “allies”, “our interests”, “leadership”, “we”, “super-power”, “responsibility”, “alliance”, “freedom”, “equality”, “self-determination”. Do not ever let such terms slide. Always demand a clear concise definition from the speaker. And then demand to know precisely why. These are premises that underpin really huge amounts of American “thinking”. (Example: Whenever “we” have to do something difficult, in 99.99% of the time “we” actually means “someone else”, some expendable morons we keep around to do such stuff, to make “me” feel better for doing nothing.) In almost every case, these premises ceased being valid decades ago, or never were valid, and yet “we” continue to operate on “thinking” that has “foundations” existing on nothing more substantial than very thin air. This is the easiest way to pull the rug out from under 90% of the bullshit that now clogs the air in America. It’s mostly noise pollution, delusion, unquestioned self-serving dogma, ultimately doomed to fail. Because, of course, it is just brainless bullshit, for mental midgets with zero experience and no understanding of the other side.
All “experts” pontificating from the very safe sidelines are always eager to commit “us” to DO something in the world, but they never explain why “we” should do it, why other countries don’t have a similar responsibility, why we never hold other countries accountable for their lack of action, why “we” never hold “friends and allies” to the same standards “we” demand of our armed forces. Just how much “brilliance” and “bravery” and “thinking” and “forethought” and “effort” does it take to simply order your paid servants to do whatever hard stuff pops up for “very special me”? Any twit on any street corner can do it. Until the US starts holding “allies” fully accountable for their own responsibilities in the world, “we” will continue to be the biggest suckers in world history. If you want me to do something, you better be standing there right next to me.
Footnote #1. Understanding Afghanistan (and Iraq). In October-December 2001, immediately after the attacks on the US of 9/11/2001, a small special operations forces (SOF) contingent of the US Army, mostly Army Special Forces (SF) and Delta, and CIA Special Activities Division went into Afghanistan on the heels of a bombing campaign designed to destroy Taliban facilities. With the support of key local tribes, they were quickly joined by a sensible force of about 2,500 US soldiers, mostly Rangers and elements of the 10th Mountain Division, charged with going after Taliban insurgents and scouring the mountainous Tora Bora region near the border with Pakistan for Osama bin Laden and his inner circle. That was the sensible and complete American military mission in Afghanistan.
The US then started handing out many huge contracts for post-Taliban commercial reconstruction projects paid for by the American taxpayer. The US State Department was responsible for most reconstruction and the US-side of any “nation-building” that was to be conducted with participating “NATO” partners. The slowly evolving mission in Afghanistan, that grew to include “NATO” “partners”, thus took on a decidedly political component. When the Tora Bora mission failed in early-2002, the US military should have withdrawn and turned the “nation-building” exercise completely over to the Europeans and State Department. A small contingent of US military personnel, mainly Army Special Forces, could be kept in country for training of Afghan military forces. However, over the next six years (2001-2007), the effort evolved into a “NATO” political mess, and the number of US military personnel slowly grew to about 25,000 as their mission expanded to include providing security to reconstruction projects demanded by State Department that was not being met by European members of “NATO”. As ineptly managed and defended reconstruction projects stalled and wasted a trillion dollars of American taxpayer money, the number of discontented insurgents steadily grew. Even so, five years later, in December 2007, US Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen stated that the Iraq war remained the US military priority and that the Afghanistan war was an “economy of force” operation – both as they had been throughout the Bush Administration. This meant that the US military would provide forces for security in secondary Afghanistan only as it was possible to draw them away from the more important mission in primary Iraq; the Pentagon was still expecting State and the Europeans to step up to the mission they had accepted in Afghanistan, while the US military continued to focus on the far more strategically important Iraq – critical to the “war on terrorism” throughout the Mid-east.
But the presidential campaign that ran throughout 2008 in the US was marked by shrill Democrats claiming that the previous administration had “dropped the ball” in Afghanistan by devoting too much military resources to the war in Iraq – which they originally supported but now did not. Senator John Kerry’s view became customary: “I voted for the war in Iraq before I voted against it.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi echoed such sentiments as the Democrats sought to gain the White House. It’s indeed unfortunate that dead and maimed soldiers committed to war can’t so easily change their minds mid-stream.
The US military had gone into Iraq with a small military occupation command on its tail, commanded by a US Army general officer; it planned on using much of the Iraqi army, on US payroll, to secure the country. But the war in Iraq suddenly become a disaster within days of successfully completing the conventional campaign to defeat the country’s military as soon as an idiot American civilian came out of the woodwork, swept aside the Army occupation command, and fired the entire Iraqi army. This suddenly and unexpectedly presented the US military with a whole army of unemployed trained insurgents and with less than a quarter of its own forces needed to secure the country without the help of the Iraqi army. General Powell knew what he was talking about: “You break it; you own it.” And if you own it, you better have a lot of the right kind of local help working with you, not against you.) Even though there never was a “ball to drop” in Afghanistan, and a lunatic civilian operating way beyond his competence level had thoroughly screwed up Iraq, huge gullible portions of the American population, with no reference of their own, and not understanding why or accepting the huge American toll in Iraq, readily bought into the nonsense. Most Americans just wanted to end the killing in Iraq, and shifting the focus to Afghanistan and blaming “someone else” for Iraq seemed like a good tactic. Sensible strategic objectives went out the window. And the Democrats were obviously viewing Afghanistan as solely a US mission that did not include twenty other countries, which some in the US military felt with some justification was a tactic being pushed in the background by Europeans and State people hunkered down in fortified “Little America” bunkers who did not want to hold up their end of what was a slow and dangerous job.
The Republicans, having grossly underestimated what it takes to secure and occupy a big country like Iraq, even if they understood the relative importance of the two wars, were unable to effectively counter the argument with a cogent strategic case for Iraq or without embarrassing the Europeans in Afghanistan. It was also because they didn’t understand warfare and military strategy any better than the Democrats. Even today, the domestic “politics of war” always views the landscape as solely a US effort, allowing all those other “partners” to vanish in the background, never even mentioned in American domestic discussions, as though they are totally irrelevant. If they are irrelevant, then why the hell does the US military waste time with them? Why does the US continue to play around with an enormously expensive “military alliance” that ceased having a justification for existing a full quarter of a century ago? Why do the Europeans always get a free ride on the back of the US military, both in political debates and on the battlefield? That’s not a military alliance; that’s just an impotent political perversion that the US military has to lug around like a debilitating dragging anchor while the US taxpayer picks up 80% of its costs. There’s a really huge gulf between rhetoric and reality when it comes to “NATO”.
So, whenever the discussion is about war, the US military exists alone, but whenever the discussion is about politics, the US military exists in a “military alliance” called “NATO”. In truth “NATO” has almost no actual military benefit. It allows the US military some “multi-national” political cover for its activates, and affords a huge number of civilian federal bureaucrats and Reservist weekend warriors the opportunity to very safely play “military stuff” in a very pleasant European office setting at lucrative pay and benefits. It also presents to the US military command an incredibly complex and convoluted military organization wherein each national contingent participates with its own separate operating instructions from home. It’s essentially an ego trip afforded mostly lesser others by American soldiers. It’s also a bottomless money pit, compliments of the American taxpayer. American politicians place a greater priority on a stupid “NATO” than they do on the nation’s own long term interests, because “NATO” helps justify a huge portion of the American taxpayer money that gets wasted on the gigantic European-American defense industry – and all the voters on both sides of the Atlantic it employs.
So, thanks to domestic US politics, the US military mission in Afghanistan took on another change in 2009, this one really huge. (Fundamental to socialist ideology is the firm conviction that the people are both stupid and helpless, and, nine times out of ten, they are absolutely correct.) The Democrats won the election, the Obama Administration assumed office in January 2009. The Obama campaign had pounded relentlessly with the completely baseless argument that Iraq was the “wrong” war, while Afghanistan was the “right” war, so now the new administration had to deliver on that stupid political campaign proposition. The number of soldiers in Afghanistan quickly jumped, doubled in a few months, to over 50,000 by May 2009 amid deteriorating security, escalating violence and US military casualties. This was done even as many other members of “NATO” began drawing down their own token contribution to the effort. A year later (August 2010) the number of US military people in Afghanistan was over 100,000 – four times higher than at any time under the Bush Administration. (This was accomplished by a simultaneous rapid US withdrawal from Iraq, a withdrawal that was completed in December 2011 without finishing the job.) The number of US forces in Afghanistan remained over 100,000 for two years (2010 and 2011), when the numbers began slowly dropping in 2012, down to about 33,000 in May 2014 – still higher today than under the entire eight-year Bush Administration. Many of the European members are long gone, and others continue to draw down their small token forces. Little has changed in Afghanistan, except that the country is now the world’s largest heroin supplier.
Since what transpired in Iraq was always strategically far more important over the long run than whatever could transpire in Afghanistan in a generation, the US should have kept its eye on the ball where it belonged – in Iraq – until the job was done and Iraq was stable, standing solidly as a beacon of equitable representative government in the middle of Islamic extremism, local warlords and militias, tribal animosities and entrenched dictatorships throughout the region. Afghanistan is clearly “Obama’s War”, but it is impossible to objectively state what positive contribution to either Afghanistan or the “war on terrorism” was achieved by the huge military build-up there under the Obama Administration (other than a dramatic increase in the number of dead and maimed American soldiers). Afghanistan always was a “nation-building” work-in-progress that would take at least a generation of very concerted effort to achieve measurable positive results. And it still would not appreciably impact Islamic militant extremism elsewhere, especially in the Mid-east and Africa. Afghanistan had been a convenient base of operations for al Qaeda, but al Qaeda and its many “off-shoots” now have several such bases of operation throughout the region, and they are no longer under central command. (Afghanistan also provided the bureaucrats in Washington a base from which to launch their remotely controlled armed drones into Pakistan, for which the enemy responded by killing American soldiers on the Afghanistan battlefield with remotely controlled “IEDs”.) Those US military forces in Afghanistan could have been far better devoted to the more important, and quicker achieved, mission in Iraq – a country which the US military invaded, conquered and finally owned at truly great cost, only to meekly walk away from it before its mission was completed – just to meet the demands of incredibly stupid domestic American politics.
Maybe the American “experts” will figure it out when the Caliphate is storming their gates. Hint: The enemy is an extremely intolerant ideology. As such, it is not so unlike Soviet communism of the 20th century. The biggest difference is that the militant branch of this ideology employs solely methods of unconventional warfare.
It is not possible to defeat this enemy simply by killing those who show up on the battlefield. That approach will accomplish no more than does the little boy on the beach trying to empty the sea into his hole in the sand. You have to relentlessly pursue its most dangerous fighters, while you simultaneously and systematically render its support base ever less willing to render support, including new recruits. It is the unconventional approach to the support base that is of critical importance. The mission in Iraq took a giant step in that direction, by removing a universally hated dictatorship modeled after Hitler’s Nazis smack in the middle of the Muslim Mid-east and replacing it with a freely elected, although nascent, representative government. (“Arab Spring” purple fingers were first raised in front of a million cellphones and dozens of al Jazeera TV cameras – in Iraq. Three times.) To instill an inclusive representative government in a people who have lived their whole lives under ruthless minority dictatorship stifling tribal differences by brute force takes time and patience. But then it was all just pissed away by Americans who didn’t know what they were doing, by ignorant domestic politics pandering to the majority women’s vote that labeled Iraq “the wrong war” and Afghanistan “the right war”, and made the loss of nearly 7,000 dead and over 56,000 maimed soldiers, plus trillions of US taxpayer dollars, in both wars, totally meaningless. It all made as much sense as childishly playing “whack-a-mole”, in a vast ideological sea.
After that much sacrifice in Iraq, and after three successive free elections, you do NOT just walk away until you have stood up something worthwhile that will last, that will govern all Iraqis fairly and equitably, that will be able to defend itself with both professional military and police forces, and that will shine as a beacon of hope and example for all Muslims everywhere. That was the strategic objective – for winning the support base of Islamic militant extremists, an objective that was absolutely essential even if Iraq’s constitution had to be altered to facilitate a three-state federation (Shia, Sunni and Kurd). The US military should have concentrated solely on Iraq until the mission was finished and then ventured no further, including into Libya. You do not get kicked out of a country you have conquered until you have accomplished whatever you deem necessary, including a status of forces agreement covering any soldiers you elect to remain to do whatever you deem necessary. Walking away is just incredibly stupid. But that’s exactly what happened. All those dead and maimed American soldiers, all that American taxpayer money, was just cavalierly deemed “a mistake” by inept politicians who didn’t have the slightest idea of what they were doing, who had risked nothing. (Running away, shirking responsibility, shifting accountability, have been the most glaring hallmarks of the Baby Boomer generation, and its children, ever since about 1970.) Abandoned before its government, security institutions and defense capabilities were up to the task, Iraq has predictably continued to slide backwards ever since. It is essentially a country in violent turmoil now barely held together by a new dictator appreciably supported by the regime in Iran. This is also what most knowledgeable people expect Afghanistan to resemble in a couple of years.
In the age of social media, nothing beats adroitly manipulated political herd power.
Consider Afghanistan in the context of Russia as a fully participating military partner.
Without Russia as a full partner with a completely understood commitment to defeating extremism along its southern border, Afghanistan should have been turned completely over to the Europeans a decade ago. Despite the argument presented by State at the end of the “Cold” War, an argument justifying huge cuts in Defense to pump up State and USAID with spaces and money, State is not competent to conduct reconstruction and “nation-building” without a secure environment. You do reconstruction and “nation-building” in order to get a secure environment. The objective is not the immediate security of Americans; the objective is the ultimate security of the people being assisted. To do that requires a military force that can do the required “nation-building” work while also protecting itself outside the bunkers – a job that was always far better suited to the European militaries than to the American military after the “Cold” War “peace dividend” cuts reduced it to little more than combat force “teeth”.
It’s very difficult to say what the lives of 6,900 American soldiers, plus 56,000 maimed soldiers, actually accomplished in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The first was allowed to evolve into something never intended, and the latter was ended before the job was done. To all those dead and maimed soldiers, and their families, we have nothing better to say than, “Never mind.” This is the kind of lunacy you get when you have politicians and bureaucrats talking way beyond their military competence levels and people in very high places making decisions about military matters and war that they are totally unqualified to make – on behalf of a population of voters that itself is now no better qualified. How many of our majority women voters care about this stuff? Even our bloviating chattering class doesn’t get it, far more interested in using war, and dead soldiers, to play stupid domestic politics.
Note. At the end of the “Cold” War, the US military was eviscerated of almost 50% of its strength, mainly by eliminating the non-combat arms that had been dedicated to most aspects of unconventional warfare, especially those associated with Army counter-insurgency, occupation and “nation-building”. The “thinking” at the time was that, since the US was no longer faced with an opposing global ideology (Soviet communism), there was no longer a need to do “nation-building”. As the Defense budget was drastically reduced (the 1990-94 “Peace Dividend” used to shift huge funding from Defense to domestic wants), State and USAID were pumped way up with significant additional spaces and funding to enable them to conduct any “nation-building” that might be necessary in the future. Less than one decade later, the US was again faced with an opposing global ideology (Islamic militant extremism)– which “no one could have foreseen” (sic). Even though their record was somewhat less than staller in the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Kosovo, etc.), State and USAID (and “NATO”) fell flat on their faces in Afghanistan. Civilians – both bureaucrats and contractors – don’t much like working in environments where they are being shot at; they want to have a nice secure environment in which to work their “nation-building” magic. The problem with that, of course, is that you do “nation-building” in order to get a secure environment. (Hint: The 1990-era “thinking” was deeply flawed, and remains so.) In order to secure and occupy Iraq, the US military needed to have as much of the Iraqi army as possible assisting in its efforts under a separate US-Iraq military occupation command – as that Iraqi army was gradually and systemically “cleansed” of Bathist Party bad guys. Summarily firing the entire Iraqi army en masse immediately after it had been defeated literally pulled the legs out from under a US Army that was simply no longer manned or equipped to handle the subsequent job alone. Result: guaranteed chaos – faced not by nation-builders but by front-line combat soldiers who had to learn on a dime how to do two completely different jobs (killing and helping) at the same time. This is an incredibly difficult task, a task that simply would be impossible for any other entity on the planet.
Not surprisingly, Americans tend to focus on whatever pops up in front of their faces. We view wars in terms of specific personalities, specific groups, and concentrate our attention on defeating these rather straight-forward physical “targets”. The problem with that is that the current enemy is not a specific state, a specific personality, a specific group. The current enemy is an extremist ideology. That puts things far more into the cerebral realm. You cannot defeat this enemy by killing whichever people, whichever ideological adherents, show up on the battlefield, by playing simple-minded whack-a-mole. You can only defeat this enemy by attacking the ideology, through its vast support base. In that sense, it is not unlike the extremist communist ideology that faced the Greatest Generation (after they had defeated the extremist Nazi ideology) and its military forces.
The critical difference , of course, is that communism was vigorously advanced by a Soviet state that used a very powerful conventional military force to pave the way for the ideology. For those opposing it, it was relatively simple to concentrate on that state’s conventional military force (in concert with its Warsaw Pact allies), so as to restrict the ability of the ideology to be spread via military force. But the current enemy ideology is being advanced by strictly unconventional means. It does not possess one single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone. It does not even posses a specific nation state as its base. This enemy ideology exists in the minds of vast numbers of Muslims across a wide range of very different countries who see no other way to achieve their own objectives, objectives which do not fundamentally differ that much from our own. The great challenge for us today is to find ways to defeat that ideology by helping its vast support base to improve its own condition and thus render it ever less willing to render support to its extremist unconventional military arm. This means we concentrate on eliminating whichever fighters show up on the battlefield, while our greater priority addresses its support base with other means. There is only one logical way to challenge a single conventional super-power, and that way is unconventionally. This has been writ large across the globe ever since the US emerged as a single conventional super-power after the fall of the Warsaw Pact. It’s been sitting there in front of us for a quarter of a century, but apparently only our current enemy recognized it. This enemy forces us to think, not in terms of ships and planes and tanks and missiles and drones, but in totally unconventional ways. It forces us to shift the greatest burden from machines to humans. If we cannot as a people rise to that challenge, we will not prevail. It is a VERY difficult challenge. There are NO quick fixes, easy answers or short-cuts. If we are so wimpy that we’re even afraid to define our enemy, then we have already lost the war. Russia has understood this for over a decade, but since American men can’t seem to figure it out, perhaps this is a job for American women.
P.S. US military casualty rates for Iraq and Afghanistan are similar to those for Vietnam. The great difference is that, due to enormously improved body armor and early medical attention, far more soldiers who would have come home from Vietnam in cheap body bags are returning alive from Iraq and Afghanistan, but with critical parts missing.
So what inevitably happened in June 2014? The following is a good and insightful summary. ((My comments are in double parentheses.)) ((Note: US Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Director DIA, issued a classified assessment, with an unclassified summary, last February (2014) that essentially predicted the current advancement of ISIS in Iraq, so four months later it’s not really all that “unforeseen”. General Flynn had served as Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan and CENTCOM for General Petraeus.))
Factors behind the precipitate collapse of Iraq’s army
By Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent, 13 June 2014.
The collapse of the US-trained Iraqi military in the face of the initial onslaught from ISIS fighters and their allies underscores the perilous position confronting Iraq’s rulers.
On paper, Iraq’s military is a sizeable force – an army of over 193,000 to which can be added some 500,000 police and paramilitary forces of one kind or another. It is a military that in many ways is still a work in progress. Iraq has very limited air power for example ((destroyed by US during 2003 invasion, and not replaced)).
Nonetheless it is a force where – in the aftermath of the US military’s departure in 2011 – some units at least might have been expected to acquit themselves well in combat. Instead, they have largely abandoned their weaponry, stripped off their uniforms and fled.
ISIS may be a far more competent combat force than its description as an offshoot of al-Qaeda might suggest. ((They’ve been training in the Syrian war, using weapons stolen from the Libya we stupidly bombed for eight months. ISIS is a conglomerate of Islamic militant extremists, including al Qaeda, who seek to re-create a Caliphate throughout the Mid-east, regardless of existing national borders.)) But it has been numerically far inferior to the numbers that the Iraqi government can put in the field against it. So why the precipitate collapse? This rests upon a whole variety of factors – such as military equipment, organisation and so on – but the fundamental reasons are probably political.
A “New Model Army”
In a step that was subsequently much-criticised,
((1)) the US simply closed down Iraq’s existing military after it evicted Saddam Hussein from power. ((This colossal 2003 mistake, the summary firing of the entire Iraqi army, was thanks to that truly “brilliant military expert”, State Department civilian ambassador Paul Bremer.))
((2)) In its place, it sought to establish a much more westernised army in terms of equipment and, crucially, doctrine and behaviour. ((When you have no army left, the US military had to start from scratch to build a new one – all while the US military was also fighting insurgents who were unemployed former members of the disbanded army in a country in total chaos.)) Creating any military from the ground up is a huge task. Some progress was indeed being made, but the project was always going to take many years. ((It takes a minimum of ten years just to put in place a decent foundation and bare superstructure for a modern army, and major emphasis to this part of the mission could not take place until the country had been rendered reasonably stable, around 2009.))
((3)) The departure of US forces at the end of 2011 ended the close mentoring and training of Iraqi units ((i.e., the US left before the job was finished. We then had no leverage, much less any on-ground human intelligence with military expertise)).
It may also in hindsight have been a mistake to try to establish a Western-style military with high degrees of junior initiative, very different approaches to logistical support and so on.
Perhaps a hybrid approach should have been pursued, one that sought to mix elements of a modernised force with some of the traditions and culture more familiar to Iraqi troops. ((This is by far the best approach. But Bremer had fired the entire Iraqi army, so the US military had to start from scratch. It thus tried to build what it knew – an American-style army, and without introducing sophisticated equipment, intelligence platforms, advanced technology, etc.. So the US concentrated on bare basics – leadership, discipline, basic weapons, tactics, teamwork, etc. Such an army would be dependent on US sea and air power until those forces, too, could be built for Iraq later.))
In the first instance, Iraq’s new military was designed and equipped largely for internal security duties. It was assumed that the defence of Iraq’s borders – in case of a major threat from Iran for example – would be handled by the Americans. So things like the development of an air force and the provision of an air defence network – things which in any case take considerable time to train for and equip – were not the main priority.
The challenge from ISIS has for now proved too much for the Iraqi force, and they lack things like air power to create the sort of rapid and decisive intervention on the battlefield needed to stem the advance of ISIS. ((Air power in support of ground forces requires people on the ground directing it, with very knowledgeable experts on both ends of the equation. In this case, both sides are now using the same equipment, compounding the problem.))
America’s early departure had a fundamental impact on Iraq’s capabilities, as well as on Washington’s ability to get a full sense of what was happening on the ground. ((When you pull out, you pull out, and the only US military expertise left behind who can provide military assessments to the Pentagon are a handful of military diplomats at the DAO in the embassy – whose access at the working level is quite limited. You also have no ready ability to assist those your larger Army had been training.))
The Shia-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki seemed intent on limiting any support for a meaningful strategic partnership with Washington. Yes, it wanted to buy arms from the US, but it also sought weaponry from Russia, Bulgaria and elsewhere. Iraq’s oil wealth gave it the funds to buy arms more widely and, to that extent, limited US leverage over Baghdad. ((In non-Kurdish parts of Iraq, the Sunni are the huge majority of the population, residing mainly to the north and west of Baghdad, and the Shite are the minority, residing mainly to the south of Baghdad – which is a mix of both.))
Iraq’s sectarian contagion
Even before the departure of US troops, Prime Minister Maliki sought to put people loyal to him in key command positions. ((The Obama Administration from 2009 onward was unwilling to put the required diplomatic pressure on Maliki.)) With the Americans gone, this phenomenon accelerated. ((Regardless of US training and individual capabilities, Sunnis in the military were sidelined in favor of Shia, creating considerable dissension and distrust within the still-nascent force.)) Command positions became increasingly prone to decisions taken on sectarian or family lines.
Corruption was rife – the very antithesis of the sort of professional military the US had hoped to create. Increasingly, the military came to be seen as a sectarian force – one used by the Maliki government for its own ends. ((This sent Sunnis in the army, members of Iraq’s majority, seeking allies elsewhere.))
As ISIS swept forward, a fear of the likely retaliation of the government forces, as much as fear of ISIS irregulars, drove thousands from their homes.
That tells you everything you need to know about the failure of Iraq’s Shia-dominated government to establish a truly national army. ((This was an integral part of the US military mission in Iraq.)) It is this last political dimension that is fundamental to the failure of Iraq’s military. It is also the failing that constrains any US action to bolster the Iraqi government’s military position. ((The US military had invaded, conquered and finally owned Iraq; it did NOT have to leave until it was ready to do so, until it was secure in the knowledge that its sacrifices would leave something meaningful and lasting behind. As long as a sizable US military presence was there, the Iraqi government could be pressured into doing the right things, and could also counter Iranian interference.))
An intervention of US air power for example might stop ISIS in its tracks for now. ((This is highly debatable; ISIS is a totally unconventional force, mingling with the people. They thus make extremely difficult targets for air power – without US military people on the ground directing very precise application of air power. The Iraqis are not equipped to handle such a ground function. (See next paragraph.) )) But without a fundamental change of heart from Mr Maliki or a willingness of Sunni and Shia factions to make the kind of compromises needed for effective national government, a unified Iraq may survive this storm, but many fear it will simply be living on borrowed time. ((It’s now far too late. We never should have left, and we never should have allowed Maliki to alienate the Sunnis. We OWNED the country, and it was ours to lose. We did. You do NOT leave a country you have conquered at incredible expense until you have in hand what you want, until you have achieved the objectives for why you, and all your dead and maimed buddies, went in. THAT is military strategic thinking – regardless of ignorant voters. It takes astute and knowledgeable leadership.))
((There is one bright spot in this picture – the Kurds in the north. US Army Special Forces have a close working relationship, distinguished by mutual trust, with these people that has existed for over thirty years. Thanks in no small part to the Special Forces, the Kurdish forces are well trained, disciplined and very effective (as is their government), but they lack air power and their equipment and weapons are not an even match for the more modern equipment and weapons that ISIS has been able to confiscate from the fading Iraqi army. US military support, including air support, to these Kurdish forces inside Kurdish lands would be straight-forward and with little risk to innocent civilians or friendly forces. However, since there are significant numbers of Kurds in adjacent regions of Turkey (and also Iran), Turkey would react with alarm at the creation of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. So the US would have to find a way to ensure that “NATO” member Turkey did not interfere with any US military efforts to support the Kurds against ISIS. A major pipeline now runs from Kurdish oil fields through Turkey to the Mediterranean.))
Footnote #2. Ukraine, From The Russian Perspective. The following is Russian President Putin’s publicly stated view of events in Ukraine (which does not differ appreciably from my own). Mr. Putin was educated in law, and he thinks with disciplined logic. The following is based on public video of Mr. Putin’s conversations (2015-17) with the American movie director Oliver Stone.
Ukraine has always been considered an integral and ethnic part of Russia and had even produced leaders who rose to the top of the former Soviet Russia in Moscow, but Russia did not object when Ukraine decided to invoke “self-determination”, declare its independence and go its own way. When it was later announced that Ukraine, which still had unique open trade relations with Russia, would be joining the European Union, the Russians felt that the EU was using Ukraine to gain free access to the Russian market without granting equal status to Russia. Russia had been trying unsuccessfully to gain membership in the World Trade Organization for 17 years. (A major part of the problem here was overcoming the wholesale damage to the Russian economy resulting from western “experts” who had flooded into the country during the 1990s, which enabled the wholesale looting of Russia by native oligarchs and western companies.) When Russia objected to such EU-Ukraine trade arrangements and wanted to first establish conditions for access to Russian markets, Ukraine’s president decided to postpone his country’s entry into the EU in order to first work out details with Russia. But rather than take the time to learn what details had to be worked out, the West just saw a bully Russia exerting its power over “poor” Ukraine because it could do so with a “puppet” Ukrainian president. That intense propaganda line provided the pretext for what followed.
The CIA, US State Department and their various paid “non-governmental” organizations (NGOs) went to work fomenting massive demonstrations in Kiev that led straight to a coup d’état, complete with handpicked stooges. Front person for this campaign was neither of the two US ambassadors to Ukraine, but a very arrogant and rather clumsy Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. As the demonstrations were growing, the US asked Russia to urge the Ukrainian president not to use his armed forces to quell the riots so that the streets could be cleared and cleaned up without further bloodshed, and Russia did so. The armed forces were not activated, but the Ukrainian president also could not order police to fire on his own people. However, groups of snipers were firing on both civilians and police in Kiev in order to keep the chaos going and force the elected president to step down. Putin today says he cannot precisely identify the snipers, “but elementary logic tells me” who they were. (It is highly doubtful that Mr. Putin does not know precisely who was involved. His intelligence services – the military GRU and the civilian FSV – are both extremely capable, and, to Russia, Ukraine just barely meets the definition of “foreign“. ) He believes they were recruited and trained by right-wing groups in western Ukraine and Poland and sent into Kiev, all under CIA direction.
When the president of Ukraine made a brief trip to Kharkov in eastern Ukraine to attend a political event, armed opposition members seized the presidential palace and staged an armed coup by force. It was immediately apparent that those pulling the strings now were members of, or closely aligned with, hardline right-wing anti-Russian elements in Ukraine (“nationalists”, “neo-Nazis”). While the elected president was still in Ukraine, an interim president was appointed, and a quick vote conducted to validate a pre-ordained new permanent president. The deposed president for his own safety was spirited from Kharkov to Crimea. President Putin was in constant contact with the new president (Poroshenko) of Ukraine and with the US President (Obama), but the right-wing attacks against local militia in far eastern Ukraine continued, with thousands dying. There was little the Russians could do to overcome the old “Cold” War anti-Russian fervor in the media fanned by the Americans. Eastern Ukraine and Crimea was populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Russians who feared for their lives from the violent armed nationalists attacking from the west. The people of Crimea quickly voted in a self-determination referendum to leave Ukraine and join Russia – an action that would guarantee Russian protection. The Russian military then provided that protection.
You can’t deny “self-determination” in cases you don’t want while invoking “self-determination” in cases you do want. Either the principle has universal applicability, or it doesn’t.
During all the turmoil, the Russian naval base in Crimea was threatened, so the Russians are now building a new Black Sea naval base nearby on mainland Russia where it will be less vulnerable. During the turmoil, a US guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook advanced too close to the Sevastopol naval base and had to be targeted by Russian fighter jets as a warning. The US destroyer chose to avoid a confrontation and withdrew.
(In public, Mr. Putin never speaks critically or negatively about any foreign leader or official by name; he is consistently very diplomatic in that regard and always seeks to accentuate the positive in his comments about others. He is frequently described as a liar in the west. If he does lie, at least his lies make a lot more sense than the lies offered by his accusers. Furthermore, Mr. Putin’s statements are always subjected in the west to a thousand times more scrutiny and examination than are the statements made by western politicians, bureaucrats or diplomats — ten thousand times more if you include western women in that equation. It does seem rather hypocritical for the US to scream about someone “interfering in our elections” after the recent American “regime change” record in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, etc., not to mention its wide-spread use of “non-governmental” organizations to rearrange the internal politics of dozens of Third World counties in return for desperately needed US taxpayer dollars, including Russia, Georgia, Egypt, etc..)
Footnote #3. Re-learning Lessons Learned
Why Is America So Bad at Promoting Democracy in Other Countries?
There’s no quick, cheap, or military-based way to bring peace to places like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. It’s time we changed our approach, and we can start at home.
Foreign Policy, 25 April 2016
by Stephen M. Walt (the Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard)
If you’re a dedicated Wilsonian, the past quarter-century must have been pretty discouraging. Convinced liberal democracy was the only viable political formula for a globalizing world, the last three U.S. ((Baby Boomer)) administrations embraced Wilsonian ideals and made democracy promotion a key element of U.S. foreign policy. For Bill Clinton, it was the “National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement.” For George W. Bush, it was the “Freedom Agenda” set forth in his second inaugural address and echoed by top officials like Condoleezza Rice. Barack Obama has been a less fervent Wilsonian than his predecessors, but he appointed plenty of ardent liberal internationalists to his administration, declaring, “There is no right more fundamental than the ability to choose your leaders.” And he has openly backed democratic transitions in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and several other countries.
Unfortunately, a soon-to-be-published collection edited by Larry Diamond and Mark Plattner suggests that these (and other) efforts at democracy promotion have not fared well. Success stories like the recent end to military rule in Myanmar are balanced by the more numerous and visible failures in Libya, Yemen, and Iraq, ((Afghanistan)) the obvious backsliding in Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Poland, and elsewhere, and the democratic dysfunctions in the European Union and in the United States itself. As Diamond points out in his own contribution to the book, nearly a quarter of the world’s democracies have eroded or relapsed in the past 30 years. ((including the US))
You might think a realist like me wouldn’t give a damn about a state’s regime-type or domestic institutions and care even less about the goal of promoting democracy. But you’d be wrong. Realists recognize that regime-type and internal arrangements matter (indeed, Kenneth Waltz wrote a whole book comparing different democratic orders); they just believe relative power and the need for security are usually more important and that systemic pressures often lead dissimilar regimes to act in strikingly similar ways.
Even so, there are good reasons for realists (and others) to favor democracy while remaining mindful of the dangers associated with democratic transitions. Stable democracies have better long-term economic growth records (on average) and do much better in terms of protecting basic human rights. While not immune to various follies, democracies are less likely to kill vast numbers of their own citizens through famines or ill-planned acts of social engineering, mostly because corrective information is more readily accessible and officials can be held accountable. Democracies are as likely to start and fight wars as any other type of state, but there’s some (highly contested) evidence that they tend not to fight each other. On balance, therefore, I think it would be better for most human beings if the number of democracies in the world increased.
The question is, however: How should we try to bring that goal about?
At the risk of stating the obvious, we do know what doesn’t work, and we have a pretty good idea why. What doesn’t work is military intervention (aka “foreign-imposed regime change”). The idea that the United States could march in, depose the despot-in-chief and his henchmen, write a new constitution, hold a few elections, and produce a stable democracy — presto! — was always delusional, but an awful lot of smart people bought this idea despite the abundant evidence against it. ((including the failure of Vietnam))
((This whole idea is called “nation-building” – a notion that was thoroughly rejected by the US government and American society at the end of the “Cold” War around 1990 as “no longer necessary”. That rejection was used to create the Great Peace Dividend to fund domestic wants, which resulted when a million military people and their expertise were fired, reducing the size of the US military by half. Almost all of those who were eviscerated from the US military were those needed in “nation-building”. The builders were cut, and the destroyers were kept. Unfortunately that all came at another key transition point – the handing of the Greatest Generation’s leadership baton to their super-spoiled Baby Boomer children. Along with it came the “safe” affirmative action appointment of women to craft the nation’s foreign policy leadership at the State Department and White House. And neither the Boomers or women knew anything at all about military matters beyond what WW II movies had taught them. Remember “Mission Accomplished”? Just consider that even this Harvard “expert” doesn’t know that he’s reinventing an old wheel. Fortunately that wheel has proven merit. Iraq needed the Iraqi army to compensate for weaknesses in the American army.))
Using military force to spread democracy fails for several obvious reasons. ((including the fact that only soldiers pay the price of the hubris))
First, successful liberal orders depend on a lot more than a written constitution or elections: They usually require an effective legal system, a broad commitment to pluralism, a decent level of income and education, and widespread confidence that political groups which lose out in a particular election have a decent chance of doing better in the future and thus an incentive to keep working within the system. Because a lot of social elements need to line up properly for this arrangement to work and endure, creating reasonably effective democracies took centuries in the West, and it was often a highly contentious — even violent — process. To believe the U.S. military could export democracy quickly and cheaply required a degree of hubris that is still breathtaking to recall.
Second, using force to spread democracy almost always triggers violent resistance. Nationalism and other forms of local identity remain powerful features of today’s world, and most people dislike following orders from well-armed foreign occupiers. Moreover, groups that have lost power, wealth, or status in the course of a democratic transition (such as Sunnis in post-Saddam Iraq) will inevitably be tempted to take up arms in opposition, and neighboring states whose interests are adversely affected by a transition may try to stop or reverse it. ((It’s the inevitable “insurgency” – which requires a huge occupation force to establish and maintain stability. It’s the building part of the mission that follows the destruction part, and it takes a really long time.)) Such developments are the last thing a struggling democracy needs, of course, because violence tends to empower leaders who are good at it, instead of those who are skilled at building effective institutions, striking deals across factional lines, promoting tolerance, and building more robust and productive economies.
To make matters worse, foreign occupiers rarely know enough to pick the right local people to put in charge, and even generous and well-intentioned efforts to aid the new government tend to fuel corruption and distort local politics in unpredictable ways. Creating democracy in a foreign country is a vast social engineering project, and expecting outside powers to do it effectively is like asking someone to build a nuclear power plant, without any blueprints, on an active earthquake zone. In either case, expect a rapid meltdown.
The bottom line is that there is no quick, cheap, or reliable way for outsiders to engineer a democratic transition and especially when the country in question has little or no prior experience with it and contains deep social divisions.
So if promoting democracy is desirable, but force is not the right tool, what is? Let me suggest two broad approaches.
The first is diplomacy. When there is a genuine, significant, and committed indigenous movement in favor of democracy — as was the case in Eastern Europe during the “velvet revolutions” or in Myanmar today — powerful outsiders can use subtler forms of influence to encourage gradual transitions. The United States has done this successfully on a number of occasions (e.g., South Korea, the Philippines, etc.) by being both persistent and patient and using nonmilitary tools such as economic sanctions. In these cases, the pro-democracy movement had been building for many years and enjoyed broad social support by the time it gained power. Relying on diplomacy may not be as exciting as the “shock and awe” of a military invasion, but it’s a lot less expensive and a lot more likely to succeed.
The second thing we could do is set a better example. America’s democratic ideals are more likely to be emulated by others if the United States is widely regarded as a just, prosperous, vibrant, and tolerant society, instead of one where inequality is rampant, leading politicians are loudmouthed xenophobes, the prison population is the world’s largest, ((powerful lobbies perpetuate social “victimhood” to avoid responsibility)) and airports and other public infrastructure are visibly decaying, yet no one seems able to do much about it. When millions of qualified citizens are excluded from voting, or when a handful of billionaires and other moneyed interests exert a disproportionate and toxic effect on U.S. politics, it is hardly surprising that other societies find America’s professed ideals less appealing than they once were. Add in Guantánamo, targeted killings, ((rendition and torture)), Abu Ghraib, overzealous NSA surveillance, and the reluctance to hold powerful people accountable for their misdeeds, and you end up with a pretty tarnished brand.
((The US military, in fact, has long favored The Selling Of America as the Best Influence that can be applied to other countries in order to effect favorable change. It was a cornerstone of American diplomacy throughout the “Cold” War (which often took on an aspect of the Propaganda War). The problem is that America is now a far harder sell than it once was, and American “diplomacy” is incompetency incarnate, interested only in enforcing “human rights”, as defined by women, primarily via covert “democracy promotion” shadow NGO programs or the threat of US military force. Worse, the US “propaganda ministry” is at State, and always under the direction of appointed affirmative action women.))
In short, the United States will do a better job of promoting democracy in other countries if it first does a better job of living up to its ideals here at home. The necessary reforms are not going to be easy — and I have no magic formula for achieving them — but reforming the United States should be just a tad easier than trying to create a robust democracy in Afghanistan, Yemen, or any of the other places where we’ve been flailing for a decade or more.
Building a better America would also permit more Americans to lead prosperous, proud, secure, and bountiful lives. Maybe I’m dreaming, but might doing more to improve the lives of Americans here at home also be the best way to enhance democracy’s prospects abroad?
Footnote #4. Mis-Votes. David Moscrop, a columnist for the (Canada) National Post on 2 June 2014 argued, “Don’t vote unless you mean it”: Let’s just admit that some Canadians “shouldn’t bother voting.” As voter turnout declines across the developed world, it’s become fashionable to bemoan the lack of civic engagement. Many are calling for making voting mandatory or at least easier, through extended poll hours. Very few are asking the more pertinent question, which is whether higher turnout “is necessarily desirable.” So let’s shed the “unsophisticated” belief that all votes are equal. Votes that are cast through “unreflective habit”—out of partisan loyalty, for example—“or those cast from ignorance” can be labeled “bad votes.” Such voting, or rather, “misvoting,” actually corrupts the system, because the voter has chosen a candidate who does not represent his interests. It’s understandable that so many people misvote. It takes time and effort to make a truly informed political decision, and many Canadians find that their priorities lie elsewhere. Rather than showing up to the polling station, though, and mindlessly supporting the same party as always, or ticking the box next to the name they heard on the radio, such Canadians should do the rest of us a favor and stay home. After all, “just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.”
About 60% of Canadians were born in another country, and Canada does not present itself as the planet’s super-power police force, so perhaps some voter ignorance or apathy is understandable. But this same problem has been endemic in the United States for the past forty years, and the results of the emotional herd mentality with its two-minute attention span are literally everywhere you look. But if you have nothing of worth of your own invested in it, what difference does it make? To those of us who have a whole life of service invested in it all over the world, it DOES make a difference. America used to be a LOT more than just “free stuff of me.”