Why are the US and Europe again facing off against Russia? Didn’t our Greatest Generation parents already spend a whole lifetime going through all that really scary stuff? Didn’t their children learn anything? Are we going back to the terrifying “Cold” War with its intercontinental nuclear missiles and submarines and hair-trigger Armageddon even as we are engaged in a massive, deadly and perplexing struggle with the Islamic militant extremist ideology? Why are we doing this even as China sees things shaping up for a World War III waged over control of the seas? Doesn’t the US military have enough to do without politicians and bureaucrats creating whole new problems it also must address even as its soldiers are being fired by the tens of thousands? Is the Russian Federation the same as Soviet Russia? Is it really all just about Ukraine? What’s really going on here?
Who’s responsible for all this craziness?!
The following article is re-printed here in its entirety. I am not the author. (The article is the property of The Atlantic.) Jeffrey Tayler’s piece is an excellent summary in plain English of what I have been writing on the subject of “NATO” and Russia both here and elsewhere since the late-1990s – over fifteen years – in nearly the exact same terms. My thinking has always been based on history, understanding and logic, but apparently such considerations have grown considerably out of favor among most of my younger American countrymen, who seem to greatly prefer emotion, wishful thinking and safely bullying from under the wing of a temporary single military super-power. (The one item “missing” from the article that I would have included is my firm conviction that the most important ally we need for the great challenges of THIS century is Russia.) As usual, the fundamental problem is an inability, or a refusal, to view the board from the other player’s vantage, an arrogance that forces everyone else into a world construct solely “according to me”.
(In the following article, inserted numbered references to footnotes i.e., (2), and the subsequent notes, are mine, not the original author’s.)
How U.S.-Russian relations became so dysfunctional—and dangerous
The Atlantic, 22 September 2014, by Jeffrey Tayler
MOSCOW — The standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine is a relatively recent development, but it is sickeningly familiar to anyone who grew up in the Cold War decades. It is, most of all, uniquely ominous: When nuclear-armed America and Russia quarrel, peace and life as we know it are threatened the world over. The risks of errors, miscalculations, unintended escalation, and culture-based misunderstandings loom large — especially when mutual trust has been shattered and little remains of a working relationship between Washington and Moscow.
Such risks are especially high right now. NATO and NATO-allied forces are conducting military exercises in western Ukraine, while Russian-backed separatists and Russian troops remain entrenched in that country’s east. Last Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned that “the situation in Ukraine has escalated sharply and the presence of foreign military has increased in the immediate vicinity of our borders,” while announcing the deployment of the first of six stealth submarines to its Black Sea fleet. This came just days after Russia’s successful submarine-based test launch of a Bulava ICBM — a long-range nuclear missile designed to hit targets in the United States. Russia’s $700-billion defense buildup, scheduled to be completed in 2020, continues unabated. (1)
Ukraine isn’t the only potential hot spot. Earlier this month, a representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addressing Russian residents of Riga, the capital of NATO member Latvia, announced, in words similar to those it has used to describe the situation in Ukraine, that as a result of “neo-Nazi sentiments … whole segments of the Russian world … face serious problems in securing their rights and lawful interests,” and warned that Russia “will not tolerate the creeping offensive against the Russian language” underway in the Baltics. In a speech several weeks ago in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, President Obama declared that “the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris,” and that NATO forces, including those of the United States, would defend the Baltics if they were attacked. (2) The prospect of Russia taking measures — which could include closing its airspace to Western countries — to retaliate against the latest round of Western sanctions against it now seems like the least of our problems. (Ironically, the West’s crisis with Russia, though deepening, may all be for naught: The Kremlin has successfully pressured Ukraine into delaying a key free-trade provision in a newly ratified association agreement with the EU and offering its rebellious eastern provinces three years of self-rule.) ((Two years later Ukraine has not yet delivered on these and several other major agreements.))
We did not have to travel down this road, but we did, and there appears to be no way to turn back — or no way leaders in the West or Russia are prepared to take. Our newly precarious state of affairs derives, in great measure, from a failure on the part of Western, and mostly American, leaders to understand Russia, which they should have tried to do, given its strategic importance, nuclear arsenal, continental dimensions, natural resources, and potential as a troublemaker — or dealmaker — in many troubled parts of the world. It also stems from our refusal to recognize Russia’s concern about the eventual expansion of NATO, a military bloc inherently inimical to it, into more terrain along its western border — terrain that is closer to Moscow than the Baltics. How would the United States react to a Russian incursion in the Western hemisphere? This is no hypothetical question. In 1962, President Kennedy took the world to the brink of atomic war to force the Soviet Union to withdraw its nuclear missiles from Cuba.
A deal ended that confrontation, and one is needed now. But to strike one, Western leaders would have to reassess their view of, and policies toward, Russia. Russia, for reasons of history, culture, size, and geography, is what it is: not Western, not Eastern, but sui generis, its own world. Predicating policy on the hopes of a peaceful uprising and the triumph of democracy here — or, conversely, on predictions of the country’s collapse, with a new, West-friendly government emerging from the rubble — is futile. In the same vein, announcements of economic sanctions designed to make Russia “pay” for annexing Crimea or stirring up trouble in eastern Ukraine ring hollow to Russian ears.
And with good reason. Russians have spent the last hundred years surviving various apocalypses, many of their own making—the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and civil war (which included foreign, and American, intervention); famine, both man-made and natural; the Nazi invasion and the loss of at least 25 million souls; almost three decades of Stalinist despotism, with perhaps 20 million Soviets dispatched to the gulag, to say nothing of mass executions, the deportation of entire peoples, and ecological disasters. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union, sudden widespread impoverishment, two separatist wars, and an Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus that involves terrorist attacks in Russian cities to this day. Put simply, in Russia the worst has already happened. (3)
This uniquely calamitous past has inured Russians in very real ways to suffering, and certainly to worrying about suffering as a result of the “isolation” President Obama wishes to impose or the “economic pain” of sanctions, which have only solidified support for Vladimir Putin and his stance against the West, and especially against the United States. In any case, Russia has set about decoupling from the West, concluding a major hydrocarbons deal with China, helping Iran weather the effects of Western sanctions, planning its own alternative to the interbank messaging service SWIFT, and establishing financial institutions to counter the World Bank and the IMF. It could at any moment derail the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan; the route home for American troops and materiel leads across Russia. Moscow cannot be bullied into changing course. (3)
If one assumes that Putin seized Crimea and has fomented war in Ukraine’s east to keep NATO out, then an accommodation with Russia based on now-unfashionable principles of realpolitik offers the only chance of a (reasonably) stable peace. The U.S. and NATO could offer neutrality for Ukraine — that is, pledge in writing not to invite it to join the alliance, and prevail upon Ukraine’s leadership, which is now entirely dependent on Western largesse for its survival, to withdraw the bill Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is ushering through parliament that would annul the country’s non-bloc status. If Western leaders did this now, they might be able to forestall the worst-case scenario: Putin seeking to replicate the seizure of Crimea elsewhere — say, in the Baltics — where Russian-speaking populations exist outside Russia’s borders. It’s still not clear that this is what he is set on doing. But if he believes he has nothing to gain by cooperating with the West, he may try to oppose it by expanding Russia’s control over former Soviet territory. (2)
We embark on this road to confrontation without sure, seasoned hands at the wheel in the White House; in modern history, no U.S. administration has proved more inept at dealing with Russia. (4) This ineptitude, combined with the relative weakness of Russia’s conventional armed forces, a still-lethal nuclear arsenal, a military doctrine that foresees the use of battlefield nuclear weapons to de-escalate conflicts, to say nothing of a wounded psyche, make this a perilous moment in history. We are being marched off to a new war — a cold one for now — with no idea of what the outcome will be. We need to demand of the Obama administration: “Tell us how this ends.”
The crisis has been long in coming. When Russia was weakest, in the mid-1990s, NATO chose to announce plans for eastward expansion, in violation of a gentleman’s agreement that Mikhail Gorbachev had struck with the first Bush administration. (5) Boris Yeltsin objected angrily to NATO’s reneging, but to no avail. The first round of enlargement came in 1997 and included the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. Three subsequent rounds inducted other Eastern European countries, including the Baltics in 2004. Ukraine and Georgia, though denied invitations to initiate membership proceedings in 2008, were assured that they would eventually be allowed to join. (See Footnote #3.)
No matter how often Western leaders and NATO voiced benign intentions toward Russia, they persuaded no one here. The four-letter acronym standing for the world’s mightiest military alliance sounds to Russian ears about as harmless as “Warsaw Pact” once did to ours. The Bush administration’s 2002 abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty — the 1972 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union severely limiting the deployment of missile-defense systems in both countries — combined with its plans to build such installations in Eastern Europe, stoked the fire. The East-West “armed bloc” mentality that had supposedly died with the Cold War, in favor of a “Europe Whole and Free,” was alive and well.
Thus, the Russia-U.S. partnership destined to last, said Yeltsin in 1995, not “for one year … [but] for a millennium,” began breaking down just a few years after its inception. This was predictable, and predicted. In 1998, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman spoke to George Kennan, who authored the containment policy that guided U.S. relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and got his take on NATO’s enlargement. (6) It deserves to be quoted at length:
“I think [NATO’s expansion] is the beginning of a new cold war,” said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.” …
“I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.”
NATO’s expansion, Kennan said, “shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.”
Kennan also predicted that the alliance’s enlargement would result in a “new cold war, probably ending in a hot one” and the death of democracy in Russia. There is no more succinct a diagnosis of what happened than his.
But there is something to add. While Western leaders have long held that great-power politics belongs to the past, Russians have seen proof of the opposite — and of the West’s hypocrisy. During the Yeltsin years, they watched Western disdain for their country’s interests increase. The popular perception was, “The West, and especially America, is taking advantage of our weakness and advancing on us with NATO.” The 1999 NATO intervention over Kosovo in Yugoslavia, with which Russia shares a religion and Slavic ancestry, provoked long-lasting anger. During the Soviet decades, NATO would not have launched an unprovoked 78-day bombing campaign on the border of Warsaw Pact countries. In more recent years, Russians watched the United States invade Afghanistan and Iraq, torture detainees, drone suspected terrorists, spy on its population and allies (as revealed by Edward Snowden), favor the super-wealthy in Supreme Court rulings, and suffer a seemingly endless series of mass shootings that would be unimaginable in Russia or almost anywhere else. (7) ‘Who are the Americans to lecture us?’ they asked. The West’s moral authority, always shaky here, disappeared. For many Russians, the conflict over Ukraine has been nothing more than a base, old-fashioned power struggle between two morally equivalent, equally self-interested blocs. (8)
While Putin is undeniably popular in Russia now, I am not arguing that Russian democracy has survived. It has not. But Putin’s icy demeanor, agate-blue eyes, and judo-trained physique all befit the current mood in Russia: seething anger over everything lost with the fall of the Soviet Union — superpower status, national pride, a generous social-welfare state, a low crime rate, and more. Democracy, barely tried in the 1990s, did not confer those things on Russia. Putin — plus high oil prices — did. Or such is the popular perception.
Whether or not we Westerners agree with how Putin rose to power or rules today, we need to recognize that in the interests of peace and stability, Russia’s interests have to count and be accommodated in some way. Russia must have a place at the table. We did not exclude it (entirely) during the Cold War years. We cannot afford to do so now.
But will we change course? The NATO summit in Wales has set in motion moves to create a rapid-reaction “spearhead” force that, though of little real import, will further convince Russia of the threat posed by the bloc. (9) The logic of escalation moves in only one direction: up.
++++ end Atlantic article ++++
1. Until recently, Russia’s post-Soviet defense budget since 1990 had never exceeded just 10% of that of the US; this is rapidly changing. Beginning around 2004, Russia began a systematic program to rebuild its military forces, wisely starting at the bottom with well disciplined, well-trained, well-paid and well-led volunteer professional ground soldiers and then providing them modern equipment with which to do their jobs. The process, beginning with select army units, is now being copied with select air and naval forces. This is an on-going process that will take at least another decade or more to complete, but the results so far are impressive indeed. Some of Russia’s ground forces, and especially its elite special operations forces, are every bit on a par with similar units in America’s army, and, if fact, the two have operated together on covert special operations missions in the Mid-East in recent years. As a professional American ground soldier, I want these guys on my side. But until Russia’s entire military has been re-built, any confrontation with the US and Europe that develops will of necessity require Russia to escalate rapidly with potent tools such as tactical nuclear weapons to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere. Americans should never forget that the focal point of this conflict is an ocean plus half a continent away from Washington, but it’s right in Moscow’s front yard – so Russian actions naturally will differ significantly from what Americans would do.
Russia is the largest nation of Earth, with the greatest proportion of Earth’s natural resources. It still has major fundamental problems with its economy as a result of the sorry state left behind by its former Soviet communist rulers. The flood of Western economics “academics”, political “gurus” and business “experts” who poured in during the 1990s only succeeded in aggravating things until Russia went into economic free-fall (which Putin halted). This dire situation has so far required a very heavy reliance on exploitation of its vast natural resources until other sectors of the economy can achieve modern standards. The country is also afflicted with the world’s lowest birthrate, with no readily available source of desirable large-scale immigration to make up the huge native shortfall, which is resulting in a rapidly declining population. This, in turn, if not reversed, will render the huge country by mid-century barely able to defend itself and those vast resources. (The population of Russia is less than half (46%) that of the US – in a country that is twice the physical size of the US.) The US and western Europe have compensated for the rampant narcissism of their native populations by importing massive numbers of Third World immigrants to take up the native shortfall in having and raising and educating the absolutely essential future taxpayers needed to pay for their own “birthright entitlements”, but Russia, not enjoying such an immigrant-pool luxury, must somehow find the answers within itself. Its leader has been valiantly trying to re-instill a sense of strong national pride that will encourage the population to pick itself, and the nation, up and also hopefully reverse its societal malaise and accompanying suicidal birthrate trend. Nothing he (and the Orthodox Church) has tried over the past fifteen years, including a very impressive and triumphant Winter Olympics, has succeeded nearly so well as his standing up to the West over Ukraine. This has united huge majorities of the population deep into the heartland of Mother Russia (which has a thousand year history of very strong leaders) behind their smart and bold president. His domestic popularity hovers around 85%, the highest for any national leader anywhere. And now more than 80% of Russians have negative views of the US, the highest since the “Cold” War. So the more the West pushes, the more those pushes run in the favor of both President Putin and Russia. Western intimidation, it turns out, has proven Russia’s best inducement for national resurgence.
Kiev is about 5,000 miles from Washington, but it’s only 450 miles from Moscow – less than the distance between Washington and Louisville. The Russia-Ukraine border is about 275 miles from Moscow, about as far as from Washington to New Haven. And there exist actual idiots who want Ukraine to be a member of “NATO”, a military alliance that would also then control access to the Black Sea and oceans beyond. How would the US like to have a huge military alliance, one that has attacked three other countries in the last 15 years, led by an impetuous super-power, sitting that close to its seat of government?
Just how much of the current Western animosity toward Russia is simply a consequence of the significant resurgence of religion in Russia, of overt expression of religious faith among huge portions of the Russian population? Just how much of the current animosity toward Russia is being fanned by homosexuals and women (and their brainless clones) in the western media and chattering class who, oblivious to Russia’s rapidly declining population, simply have a visceral hatred of Russia’s current leader because he “persecutes” homosexuals in Russia and refuses to bow down and kiss the ass of every western woman who shows up (as is the sickening practice throughout the West)? There are now a LOT of “special” people in the West who, never having been challenged and safely protected by a super-power military, regard their “right” to impose their views on everyone else as of greater importance than even world peace. It also makes things easier, and childishly simplistic, if they can focus their hatred on a single man, rather than on a huge population that agrees with him.
2. The writer implies a potential for Russia to “seize” one or more Baltic states, which seems to be a popular view in the US and Europe (fanned by “NATO” politicians). I do not believe this is any more than a very remote possibility, that Russia will ever go beyond the intimidation level in the Baltics. One of the reasons why Russia has been so stubborn and persistent in Ukraine is that it recognizes that the ship has already sailed in the Baltics (but not in Finland); that is, the Baltics are already in “NATO”. So is Poland. Russia (and the Europeans) knows that any move on the Baltics will FORCE the US to act militarily, that, according to “NATO’s” charter, the US simply will have no way to avoid a military confrontation (due to its own stupidity for not having left “NATO” long ago when its mission was finished). (That’s why countries like Poland and Lithuania safely ended their compulsory male military service requirement in 2008; they now have “someone else” to do the military heavy lifting.) And the Russians do NOT want to go that far. Yet. But will someone please tell me why it’s necessary for the Americans – 70 years after the end of WW II and 25 years after the end of the “Cold” War – to send thousands of their ground combat soldiers and tanks back into Europe in a “show of European strength”? The EU has both a population and an economy larger than those of the US. Can’t the whiny Europeans do anything for themselves? This crap is getting positively disgusting. If the Europeans feel threatened, tell them to start drafting their women if the men don’t want to stand up. Permanent dependency is just as stupid, and self-defeating, as permanent alliances. Are these people actually worth defending? (For the past three years, one of Ukraine’s biggest problems is the number of young men who leave the country to avoid the draft, including thousands who actually move to Russia! Everyone relies on American soldiers.)
(The Finnish government has been edging tentatively closer to participation in “NATO” projects and exercises, but has ruled out full membership for now. Despite some loud domestic voices in opposition, I believe that this is a wise course. A majority of the Finnish population is still opposed to “NATO” membership, but that majority is slowly declining. I think it would be smart for Finnish leadership to take a strong stance and persuade Finns to leave Finland right where it is – nonaligned, flexible and free. They still play a unique, trusted and independent role in the world, especially between the West and Russia – where it is most valuable.)
Still, Americans, viewing the whole world as their personal playground, want their government to “send in the Marines” whenever a single American citizen is being “unfairly” treated in a foreign country; what would they want if millions of Americans, suddenly finding themselves living in foreign countries, were being denied such basics as their own language or news in English? This is the case for millions of ethnic Russians now living in countries that were once Russian republics or “satellite states”.
3. “Put simply, in Russia the worst has already happened.” and “Moscow cannot be bullied into changing course.” These are excellent ways to explain why the West’s bullying only makes the Russians dig in harder, become ever more unwilling to bend to the West’s will; there’s nothing that anyone can do to the Russians that they have not already shown themselves they can survive. External pressure always unites populations; this is one reason why sanctions have had so little effect in Iran. Russian history, especially, is ALL about everyone surviving great adversity (while American history, with the exception of the Great Depression, is all about its soldiers surviving great adversity). World War II cost the lives of 405,000 Americans, almost all of whom were young adult male soldiers, but it cost the lives of 27,000,000 Russians – 67 times more – and those Russians included men, women and children alike, most of whom were unarmed. The German invasion of Russia – Operation Barbarossa – began in June 1941. Russian men who were 18 in 1941 were born in 1923. Only 20% of the males born in Russia in 1923 survived the war – just two of every ten. So, to them, it’s just, “Bring it on! Make us strong!” Since I refuse to believe that our top foreign policy people can be THAT stupid, I have to assume that to keep shoving that silly “NATO”, with its new eastern members, new missile systems, new aggressiveness, new foreign interventions, etc., down Russia’s throat MUST be intended solely to really piss off the Russians – and thus to re-create the “enemy” bogeyman needed to justify US participation in “NATO”, i.e., it’s all according to deliberate Western nefarious design. An alliance by definition needs a reason to exist – an external military enemy that is commonly perceived as equally threatening to and by all members of the alliance; this absolutely essential raison d’être for “NATO” has been absent since 1990. Since then, “NATO” has been just another staid European political bureaucracy whose only purpose is to find, or create, a purpose, however ineptly. It’s not as if President Putin didn’t sound the alarm long ago. In 2007 he again very clearly voiced Russian fear of “treacherous NATO’s intention to encircle Russia with military bases teeming with troops” – and an oblivious “NATO”, giving the finger to Putin, continued on exactly that very course. Everything that Russia does is in direct response to what “NATO” does – all according to “NATO’s” script. If the US had been in Russia’s position, the world, starting in Europe, would have been at war long ago. Only a stupid bully applies one set of rules to himself, and different rules to everyone else.
Americans have a tendency to judge others by their own standards, but Americans have never known true economic hardship on a scale even remotely comparable to what much of the rest of the world, including Russia, is quite familiar. Americans go almost into apoplexy when the price of their gasoline rises 5 cents, but much of the rest of the world just makes adjustments to black market gasoline and never skips a beat. So those Americans who presume to judge the Russians by their own pathetic standards are guaranteed to be surprised by the impotency of their “economic sanctions”. Russians have adequately shown that they are quite capable of just “sucking it up” and “toughing it out” as they find ways of “muddling through” one adversity after another; it’s what makes them Russian. It’s what once made us American. (Now most “special” Americans get “someone else” to do the hard stuff.)
4. Original American thinking has been strikingly absent from the foreign policy arena over the past quarter of a century – since the end of the “Cold” War – ever since the super-spoiled Baby Boomers took over. The US instead has relied very heavily on privileged women appointed to very high places to craft and execute American “foreign policy”, itself based heavily on thinking they learned from old text books about the “Cold” War crafted and written by the Greatest Generation for an entirely different world. This practice, which is primarily a tactic designed to buy women’s votes, began with Madeline Albright – a privileged “birthright entitled” woman immigrant born in Communist Czechoslovakia and raised in London comfort. Albright was appointed Secretary of State by America’s first Baby Boomer president, Clinton, in 1996, soon after the fall of Soviet Communism and the Warsaw Pact. With her background, she was the worst possible backward-looking ideologue to be at the helm of American foreign policy at that moment in history – which demanded very forward-looking independent brilliance. The Clinton Administration, as soon as the “Cold” War ended, did nothing except send in armies of theoretical academics and Wall Street “Masters of the Universe” to help the “hick” Russians re-engineer their society overnight into a US-style western capitalist democracy. They soon left, of course, quite chagrined that their nifty theories didn’t work so well in a Russia they didn’t begin to understand, a Russia with a thousand years of experience with a completely different way of viewing the world – but not before enabling the wholesale looting of the country’s resources (which its president has been trying to claw back).
And then Albright set about forcibly changing “NATO” in the late-1990s from a purely defensive organization into an offensive organization that went militarily into a foreign country – Yugoslavia – without first securing Russia as a full and equal partner in the adventure. She still viewed Russia as the Communist Soviet Union that had invaded and oppressed her childhood Czech homeland and was determined to stick it to the Russian “thugs” at every opportunity, repeatedly insulting senior US military leaders for not taking the far more aggressive stance that she wanted America to show, regardless of any “unintended consequences”, regardless of how such actions would be perceived by others, regardless of what comes next. Albright wasn’t satisfied that the Warsaw Pact was gone; she wanted nothing less than to humiliate an already depressed Russia before the whole world. She and her State Department were vehemently opposed to US-Russian military friendships that were developing of their own natural volition. She then also introduced a purely hypocritical view of “self-determination” with Kosovo, one that supported “self-determination”, but only if the self-determination went the way she wanted it to go and not if it went any other way (as in Georgia and Ukraine). It was all “the world according to very special me”, here and now, damned the future. Albright never stopped waging the “Cold” War – by hiding behind what was, however briefly, the world’s only military super-power.
In other words, long after the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact had imploded and disappeared, the US foreign policy team was still running on Greatest Generation “Cold” War auto-pilot, revealing itself totally unable to develop its own original strategy to deal with a completely different world. Even President Bush II’s “teacher” about the broader world, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, had made her reputation under President Bush I as an academic expert on Soviet Russia with zero direct experience with that Russia. America’s foreign policy people had learned all the right answers for the old tests, but were simply incapable of their own original thinking, of writing new text books for new realities, of demonstrating the bold brilliance that could easily have seized once-in-a-century opportunities for the better futures of both nations, plus everyone in between. And these Baby Boomers are still stuck with thinking done for them by their Greatest Generation parents, for a world that no longer exists.
Then came the inexplicable intention to position missiles in western Europe ostensibly to defend Europe from a missile attack from (absurdly) Iran or North Korea but positioned in such a way that they could only be seen as viewing Russia as the potential attacker. No one ever even explained why it was necessary for the US to defend Europe with its missiles, why Europe couldn’t defend itself with its own missiles – if they saw that as necessary. All of these moves, including adding new member “NATO” states ever closer to the Kremlin’s gates, having “NATO” again intervene offensively in another foreign nation (Afghanistan) without Russia as a full partner, etc., could not possibly be viewed by Russia as anything other than systematic and deliberate aggression aimed at boxing in and permanently subordinating Russia. Even Russia’s very significant cooperation with the US military, by opening numerous supply routes through Russia and making available huge sources of Russian fuel for its forces in land-locked Afghanistan didn’t alter Western politicians’ stupid approach to their nation. Did American and European officials think that Russia would simply roll over and play dead forever? Sooner or later Russia was bound to stand up and strongly defend its own best national security interests. Its leaders would be entirely negligent if they did not. We certainly would have done the same were the situation reversed. Only supremely arrogant American women, never having been challenged by anyone on anything, could possibly “think” like this. (It greatly helps if you can push your dogmatic nonsense from safely behind the shield of the world’s only military super-power, with zero fear of possible blow-back on yourself.) Given the sum of events that have transpired between the US and Russia over the past twenty years, if the situations were reversed the United States would have long ago already impeached any US President who did not react in a manner very similar to the way President Putin has reacted.
Covert Use Of “NGOs”. At the end of the “Cold” War, around the 1990-93 period, the American Baby Boomers reduced the size of the US defense budget by nearly 50%, fired almost a million military people, shifted huge piles of money and personnel spaces to CIA, State and USAID, and diverted the remaining “Peace Dividend” to domestic wants. CIA, State and USAID went heavily into the commercial contractor business, with CIA moving strongly into the paramilitary arena and State and USAID giving preference to ostensibly altruistic companies owned by women and minorities. Both approaches allow the Executive Branch to interject itself secretly into the internal affairs of foreign countries without the checks and balances of prior Congressional approval or US military legal accountability. In effect, the US government hires front companies to do things in foreign countries which the US government itself is prohibited from doing. With the US as the possessor of the world’s only super-power military, people in the foreign affairs arena figured that it was a safe time to use these “non-governmental organization” (NGO) government contractors (Yes, it’s an oxymoron) as covert instigators of foreign internal government manipulation, revolution and coups wherever the outcome might be better for US and Western self-interests.
Primary State and USAID target countries were members of the former Soviet Union, including Russia and its near former satellite states, such as Georgia, Ukraine, parts of the former Yugoslavia (such as Kosovo), Belarus, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan. Secondary target countries included those led by dictators elsewhere. The idea was to ensure that western-style liberal (or socialist) governance would assume control and flourish, along with a pro-West foreign policy stance – all under the guise of pursuing, funding and manipulating civic and political causes, election monitoring efforts, “human rights” causes, and advising and supporting opposition political parties and personalities. (One can only imagine the tidal wave of public protest that would occur if it became known that such practices were being employed inside the United States by foreign governments to affect, for example, the outcome of American elections.) These policies appeared to bear fruit when popular democratic movements helped overthrow dictators in Chile, Nicaragua, Serbia and (recently) Nigeria and with the successful “color revolutions” in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Ukraine. They were somewhat less than successful in Egypt, Venezuela, Cuba and elsewhere. (And, no, Junior, none of these governmental changes were actually the spontaneous popular events they appeared to be on YouTube or Twitter.)
Just to be clear, this is using US taxpayer money to direct “NGOs” in the covert funding, manipulation and management of opposition politicians and political parties so as to engineer “regime change”, revolutions and coups, and place bought US stooges in power. It is direct interference in the internal political affairs of sovereign states – which would send the US straight into apoplexy if anyone tried the same in the US – and this covert pollution of the democratic process is all engineered not by CIA but by State and USAID women and their women-owned commercial contractors. It’s “regime change” on the cheap, cheaper even than that executed by eight months of bombing Libya, by working with elements in foreign countries which, if in the US or Western Europe, would be regarded as treasonous groups.
In addition to the sad case of Egypt, the approach has also been less successful in Russia, and has contributed to a general animosity in US relations with that country, too. In 2009, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that during the three years between 2006 and 2008, under a Republican Administration, federal agencies spent nearly $100 million on “democracy promotion” in Russia—much of it in the form of funding for “civil society programs” — making Russian groups the sixth-largest recipient of US spending for that covert purpose. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 26 October 2014 speech received worldwide attention for its condemnation of American foreign policy. Putin claimed the US actively interferes in the affairs of other countries, cynically foments “color revolutions”, and even supports Islamic terrorists under the guise of promoting “peace, prosperity, progress, growth, and democracy,” all in order to preserve its dominant, hegemonic position in a “unipolar” world. And, unfortunately, there is very considerable evidence to support Putin’s contentions, including State and USAID support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and certain “rebel” groups in Libya. The Russian government has since passed a series of laws tightening the screws on foreign-funded political NGOs and requiring them to register as “foreign agents,” with connotations that they are spying for foreign governments. Similar legislation has been enacted in Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine (under Yanukovych) and elsewhere, which has cracked down on all foreign-funded NGOs, domestic protesters and opposition groups, including legitimately independent groups, not just those naively funded by the US taxpayer. Such sensible policies of sovereign states is similar to such policies long in existence in the US, except that the US would also prosecute such groups in federal court.
The conflict inside Georgia involved two large regions – Abkhazia in the far west (just 20 miles from Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics) and South Ossetia, north of the capital of Tbilisi. Both portions border Russia, and both hosted Russian forces on a UN peace-keeping mission that Russia for years had tried unsuccessfully to get the “international community” to assume. Both areas had fought brief wars of secession (“self-determination”) in the early 1990s, resulting in separatist declarations of autonomy from Georgia. Russia recognized the autonomy, while Georgia and most of the rest of the world did not. As with the current leader of Ukraine, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia was hand-picked by US State during the 1990s as a “human rights” ideologue and sent to the US (State’s Muskie Fellowship), to Columbia and George Washington universities. Returning to Georgia, the now-US educated and groomed Saakashvili was elected President handily in 2004 and barely in 2008. Then a series of violent acts by separatists and a stupid response by Georgian forces resulted in all-out war in August 2008. The militarily inept president of Georgia and State Department contractors tried to take advantage of the presence of a US Marine trainer contingent to deliberately engineer a shooting conflict with Russian peacekeeping forces that would require the US military to come in and solve everyone’s problems for them. The Marines left in a hurry, the shooting started within hours, and State Department spin confused everything to hide the fact that Georgia had provoked the conflict with the assistance of State contractors. This played out a similar scenario that had taken place in Kosovo, but this time Russia, with that UN peacekeeping mandate, sent additional forces into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, claiming Georgian atrocities against the local inhabitants. Russian forces very easily could have taken all of Georgia within hours, but abruptly stopped after giving the Georgian military a bloody nose and returned to its formerly UN-controlled areas. The US military provided humanitarian aid, but did not introduce combat forces. Saakashvili was defeated in 2012 and quickly left Georgia for Tufts University. In 2015, however, sought by Georgia on criminal charges, he turned up as a US State-supported heavy mover in Ukraine. (Ukraine has no extradition treaty with Georgia, Russia or the US, and State realized it had a ready-made stooge in Saakashvili sitting on the shelf who could be put to use elsewhere.) Today, both separitist areas of Georgia are de facto independent from Georgia’s control.
All of this nonsense in Georgia sent a very loud signal of how Russia would react to similar future provocations, so from 2008 onward Russian reactions in Ukraine were always 100% predictable, and became totally inevitable after “NATO” destroyed Libya and the US began interferring inside Ukraine. In Russian thinking, there are unbroken offensive links in US and “NATO” involvement from Kosovo to Georgia to Libya to Ukraine as matters of deliberate US policy to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and, at the least, to humiliate Russia, if not also to similarly interfere in Russia. Russia had to simply pound sand in Kosovo and Libya, but did not in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria; it is learning its lessons well. The trend is for them to move sooner rather than later – which makes it ever more likely that inept “NATO” politicians will dangerously misjudge the next manufactured “crisis” situation, and US military reaction to it. (The Pentagon knows generally what’s going on.)
For Russia the breaking point came when US State and USAID used its NGOs to manipulate a huge protest crowd, engineer a coup, and emplace its own hand-picked stooges in power in Ukraine – all arrogantly right in front of the closely watching Russian KGB. The US has done a decent job of keeping its extensive and direct role in engineering the Ukrainian coup at a minimum in the western media – even though the Russian response to it was always 100% predictable, that our actions in Kiev, coming on the heels of the “NATO” war against Libya, actually left Putin no other choice. (And, yes, the US would have done exactly the same to quickly shore up its own suddenly weakened defenses.) Despite strong US support for the new Ukrainian government and economic sanctions against Russia, in 2014 over one-third of Ukrainians polled held a strongly unfavorable regard for the United States. Despite calls in the US for the Americans to send arms and soldiers to the Ukraine, Ukraine has long been a global leader in black market weapons trade and has a severe problem with young males leaving the country to avoid the Draft, many even traveling to the Russia they would be required to fight. Meanwhile Putin’s popularity inside Russia has soared and remained at very high levels (above 85%) ever since he spoke out strongly against American covert interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
The core arguments made by Russian officials regarding America’s self-interested ambition, arrogance, and penchant for using “democracy” promotion to meddle in the affairs of others resonate with publics across Eurasia—even in countries like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, which have received significant amounts of American aid, and Azerbaijan, which has sought to maintain some diplomatic distance from Russia. The same is true of Egypt, where the approach was a colossal failure, resulting in an outraged public even demanding yet another military take-over of the country. (“Regime change” in Egypt, Ukraine and Libya were all executed under the Obama Administration.) In sum, the naively arrogant American approach has largely backfired (and greatly sullied even the meanings of “democracy”, “diplomacy” and “aid”). Furthermore, these US civilian agencies and their contractors depend on the US military to bail them out when they get in over their head, but the US military (and the American people) are the last to learn what actually has been going on in the shadows (if they ever do find out). Nothing is ever really what it seems (or even what the press says) these days, yet the US is full of blustery morons who want the US to go to war to “teach Putin a lesson”. Just who is to teach the US a lesson?
(And, of course, the begging question here is the connection(s) of all this hidden US Government covert stuff with entities like the Clinton Foundation and all those programs like the Open Society Foundation funded by super-wealthy ideologues like George Soros. Just who is working for whom?)
A sociological study conducted in 2014 in Eurasia, funded by the US Army, concluded: “To restore a positive image of America, US officials should scale back the type of democracy promotion that looks like meddling in favor of strategies that leverage America’s advantages—namely, positive perceptions of American institutions, economic and technological achievements and high living standards. (This is old fashioned “selling America”, as it is, warts and all. It worked VERY well for forty years during the “Cold” War.) The American way of life could be made a positive institutional model that ultimately encourages organic movements for change untarnished by the stain of foreign interference. Ways to do so include bolstering student, scientific and other exchanges, encouraging more frequent travel, immigration and trade between the United States and former Soviet countries and quietly but assiduously promoting programs that expose citizens in Eurasia to concrete examples of American institutions. (This is PRECISELY the Greatest Generation’s very successful “Cold” War model.) While no strategy is guaranteed to work, this approach has a better chance than continuing efforts to promote democratization by directly supporting local political NGOs and oppositional movements. (But this might also put a lot of women-owned State and USAID contractors out of the covert interference and revolution business. One of those American women is now Ukraine’s very wealthy Finance Minister, whose wealth is mostly due to US taxpayer largess.) (Study: Gerber and Zavisca, 2015, for US Army Research Laboratory and US Army Research Office via the Minerva Research Initiative program under grant number W911NF1310303.)
((As part of the deal that exchanged prisoners with Cuba in 2015 was the release of Alan Gross – who had been languishing in a Cuban prison hell for five terrible years. Gross, who spoke little Spanish and had not worked in Cuba before, had been given a totally harebrained contract mission by affirmative action women at USAID to surreptitiously set up unfettered satellite access to the internet in Cuba without permits required by Cuban law. Operating under an irresponsibly stupid 1996 Baby Boomer law calling for “regime change” in Cuba (also intended to provide government funding to small US businesses providing some modicum of “plausible deniability” to the US Government), Gross’s effort was a “democracy-promotion program” to provide clandestine communications equipment to untrained Cuban “dissidents” so as to break the Cuban government’s ‘information blockade’ and thus undermine a foreign sovereign state. (A number of such laws were enacted by spoiled Baby Boomers in the US Congress after the end of the “Cold” War when the US emerged as a single superpower that faced no credible threat and thus could easily play Biggest Bully On The Block operating with impunity under its own rules wherever it wished. It’s amazing what happens to your “thinking” – as one person or a single group or a whole nation – when you know that no one can present meaningful objection, that there’s no price to pay for your juvenile arrogance, that only “someone else” has to pay for your stupidity.)
((Since such “regime change” acts are naturally considered under international law as “acts of war” perpetrated by one state against another, Gross naturally had every reason to believe that he would have the full backing of the US Government. When the scheme predictably went south, none of the women USAID bureaucrats would fess up to their own stupidity, so the poor guy, along with his naïve Cuban cohorts, was left swinging in the breeze, abandoned by the very government that had sent him in with zero training or support. This was NOT a professional CIA operation, but when arrested Gross had in his possession a very high-tech and specialized computer chip (designed to mask the location of transmission equipment) that is not available on the open market, but can be obtained by the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department (which oversees USAID). Asked by AP how Gross obtained the undeniably incriminating card, a USAID spokesman said that the agency played no role in helping Gross acquire equipment. (Apparently USAID’s grossly incompetent role was limited to using US taxpayer money to send an honorable man on a fool’s errand with zero probability of succeeding.) Alan Gross was quite simply a duped agent provocateur of the US government – who could have been legally executed by the Cuban government. He was essentially conducting a sabotage operation against the government of Cuba, but without the expertise of professional intelligence personnel and support apparatus, much less duly established oversight accountability or even reasonable consideration of potential blow-back consequences elsewhere. This is the lunacy you get when the strings are pulled in the shadows by privileged women trying to operate far beyond their competence levels who cannot be held accountable. In this case their behavior was simply criminally irresponsible. Some day those women, who risk nothing themselves, are going to engineer an international catastrophe. For the record, Gross’s treatment by the Cuban government was very similar to the treatment that would have been afforded a Cuban espionage agent caught similarly operating inside the US. The US never admitted that Gross was a clandestine intelligence agent of the US Government, probably because no actual professional intelligence officer was involved in his activities on behalf of the US Government. P.S.: It’s not difficult to imagine that this case would have played out very differently if Mr. Gross had been an American woman.))
5. President (1989-93) George H.W. Bush was the last US President who actually knew what he was doing in the world beyond American domestic politics. As a member of the Greatest Generation, he was, in fact, probably the most internationally qualified president in American history, the perfect man to be at the helm when the world really did change with the fall of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the end of the long “Cold” War and the dawn of a whole new world with a completely different set of long-suppressed and hotly simmering problems. But American voters, in all their wisdom, immediately after he had won the quickest and most decisive war in American history (Persian Gulf Kuwait), inexplicably threw him out of office at mid-stream, after only one term in office. Substance gave way to perception in “leaders”. The super-spoiled Baby Boomers had arrived in force at the top of the heap. All subsequent presidents, and their cabinets and staffs, came into office steeped in and focused solely on domestic politics and completely out of their element on the world stage. Almost none of them have had any credible military experience at all. Their “thinking” is dominated by emotion rather than by logic. These people, elevated mostly on the basis of superficial “reality-TV-type” celebrity popularity polls, appointed primarily for the purpose of buying votes from various social interest groups, have all been trying to operate in a very complex arena that demands talents and knowledge that are way beyond their competence and knowledge levels. This, in turn, forced an enormously disproportionate and heavy reliance on brute military force that was now unequaled and unopposed in strength, i.e, a bully power compensating for brain power. It was a “safe” time to turn the job of Secretary of State and similar critical “foreign policy” positions into permanent affirmative action positions for unqualified (and “special”) political women. And the world has paid a very heavy price indeed for not aggressively challenging these people from the start, for not forcing them to actually step up to those new realities.
6. If anyone deserved to be listened to after the end of the “Cold” War, it was George Kennan – who was 94 when he made these comments. Here was the architect of the West’s strategy for the “Cold” War now sounding the alarm that it was time for a completely different strategy, definitely not for a brainless continuation of the same old strategy crafted for a completely different and now gone world. But America no longer had anyone of his caliber, save perhaps an aging Henry Kissinger (75 in 1998), available. Kennan died in 2005, Kissinger is now 91, and the Baby Boomers have proven themselves simply not up to the task. Perhaps Kennan’s mistake was invoking the Founding Fathers, a nod to males that always seems to automatically rankle America’s “feminists” (whose “Founding Mothers” undoubtedly would have crafted a completely different nation). Nevertheless, Kennan’s invocation of America’s Founding Fathers would be especially applicable to our greatest Leader, our greatest President and our greatest General – George Washington, who, on his way out the door, chose – of all possible things – to very strongly warn his followers about the inherent dangers of “permanent alliances”. (And an alliance is a MILITARY organization – not a political freak show.) The US should have left NATO when the alliance’s mission was completed honorably around 1990, freeing both Europe and the US to each craft their own alliances designed for the coming century, not the last.
(Kennan rated the fall of Soviet communism as the “greatest bloodless revolution in history”, and it is not easy to counter that view. But I happen to believe that the “greatest bloodless revolution in history” was actually that undertaken by totally self-interested American “feminists” over the past half century. It was an ideological revolution glorifying and enshrining an endless plethora of rights, without one single mention of responsibilities – a narcissistic ideology that gradually came to infect the entire Baby Boomer culture. “It’s all about very special me”. No “feminist” has ever championed anything other than herself and her own group, damned everything else. And their “birthright entitlement” to create a new gender-based aristocracy derives solely from the difference of one single chromosome – before they are even born – and on absolutely nothing else.)
Over 80% of “NATO” is the US military, so whenever you hear “NATO” politicians invoke “NATO” they are using the US military as their dumb working dog on a leash. The rest is mostly a phony façade. European politicians currently are using “NATO” to bully Russia with the US military, and Turkey is using “NATO” to force the US military to do its dirty work against Muslim extremism in the Mid-East – even as Turkey wages ruthless war against the US military’s best ally in that endeavor, the Kurds. In both situations, the US will have no choice but to use its military forces in situations purposefully created by other “NATO” members for their own self-serving political objectives – and leave the US military holding the bag for any negative blame. The current political head of “NATO”, for example, is a Norwegian politician who was always a lot more friendly toward the communist Soviet Union than he is now toward the democratic Russian Federation. (To European politicians, left-wing dictators are enormously preferable to right-wing politicians.) And the current president of Turkey has been trying to engineer a resurgence of the Ottoman Empire emanating from Turkey and has been quite adept at getting the US military to further his hubristic objectives even as he uses US weapons to kill Kurds – both those inside his borders and those fighting Islamic extremists in both Syria and Iraq. (It’s difficult for Turkey to garner Muslim popularity if it sends its own military forces against other Muslims.)
I’ve heard some American morons argue that the enormous US over-support of entities like “NATO” gains the US “leverage”. Think about that a moment: We BUY “friends and allies” at stupendous cost so we can pressure them into providing VOCAL agreement with whatever UNILATERAL actions we wish to take. And their TALK, of course, is the cheapest thing there is. How in the world do such American idiots ever gain positions of influence over such matters? “I’m giving you $500 Billion plus 100,000 professional soldiers and their equipment plus our off-shore super-power strength every year for the next half century. In return I expect you to agree to let us provide your national defense for you.” How can they refuse? It’s “leverage”. (For morons. If “friends and allies” come at such cost, who needs enemies?) The only thing this utter nonsense accomplishes is to lend vicarious “weight” to marginal US “diplomats” who obviously need all the extra help they can get to keep their pointy heads above water.
7. Five American women appointed to very high places then even lied to the Russians about US intentions in Libya, lies that were intended solely to avert a Russian veto of a UN resolution that stipulated a strictly humanitarian mission – to establish a “no-fly zone”, not to effect “regime change”. (American liberals, for some reason, have always had a great preference for obtaining United Nations, rather than US Congress, approval for committing the American people’s military forces to foreign engagements; it’s apparently easier for them to convince foreigners who risk nothing than those who must offer up their own sons – which makes American democracy operate like a 17th century monarchy, or a communist dictatorship, despite a US Constitution that sanctions none of this nonsense.) Five American women in high places, including Albright and her student Hillary Clinton plus three other women “human rights” ideologues (Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Victoria Nuland), over very loud protests from Russia, then used that UN resolution to get “NATO” to bomb Libya – for eight months – until the country was in rubble and its leader dead in a sewer. Libya was the third country in a dozen years to come under offensive attack from a “defensive” “NATO”. Once again, unaccountable affirmative action American women appointed to very high places had used “NATO” as an offensive, not a defensive, alliance – and all for purely cheap domestic political objectives. (See “Getting Gadhafi”, posted separately.) Is Russia next? Should Russia just sit there and wait for “NATO” to attack? Is Russia as stupid as the US and “NATO”?
When Hillary Clinton and her women friends were ginning up foreign support for an unprovoked “NATO” attack on Libya, Russia was vilified for not being a “team player”, for being “obstructionist”. The very smart and shrewd professional Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, amazed to find himself and his country back in the old “Cold” War, kept asking, “What comes next?”, but five years after creating a colossal ungovernable mess in Libya, Clinton and friends still have no answer. The Americans, safe and secure behind their powerful military, never bother considering what comes next, seldom bother even thinking. It’s small wonder that Russia later saw a repeat of Libya coming in the US intention to attack Syria and waved a red flag in front of the charging American bull in the form of instead removing some of Syria’s WMD. And, with an American herd attention span measured in minutes, there is no need for their inept “leaders” to consider “unintended consequences”, no need to consider anything except dumb domestic herd politics. (What is surprising is that an annual Gallup poll found that Russian President Putin, who remains very popular among Russians, was also the 10th most admired man among Americans in 2014 – the same year in which Russia reclaimed the Crimea. Apparently a lot of Americans still do some of their own thinking, but I personably would rate Putin’s very astute foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, above Putin.)
(Precedents have a way of always coming back to bite you in the ass. Today, for example, China is following the playbook the US wrote for its own 20th century rise, and that seems to upset those in the West who don’t know their own history. The same ignorance garners concern for a Russia – which has repeatedly been subjected to catastrophic attacks from the West, including France’s Napoleon and Germany’s Hitler – now shoring up its national defenses in anticipation that an ever more aggressive “NATO” military alliance on its western doorstep – a superpower-led “defensive” alliance that has already attacked three non-member countries in a dozen years – will repeat that history against Russia.)
Some things are as predictable as rain. Putin and Russia have zero intention of ending up like Gadhafi and Libya. (See “Getting Gadhafi”.) Who would? Following Newton’s Third Law (“for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”), immediately following on the heels of the “NATO” bombing campaign against Libya, Putin decided that he and Russia could not wait for the moderate President Medvedev to complete a second term and opted to run for the office instead. Immediately after assuming office, Putin established a major increase in the program to re-build Russia’s military forces and sent it into overdrive. Then came American scheming in Kiev, orchestrated by Nuland. It’s not what you say that counts; it’s how what you do is perceived by others. Nuland left Russia no choice except to re-take Crimea before it was too late.
The Associated Press published a report on 4 February 2015 by Vladimir Isachenkov that summarized the dramatic one-third increase in Russia’s military modernization program despite the severe economic sanctions imposed by the West. The new Russian military doctrine, endorsed by Putin in December 2014, names “NATO” as a top threat to Russia and lays out a response to what the Kremlin sees as the alliance’s expansion into Russia’s sphere of interests. This is precisely how we viewed the rise of the Warsaw Pact military alliance, and with the same language. In the Ukraine crisis, Moscow for the first time demonstrated its new capacity for what “experts” call “hybrid” warfare, a combination of military force with a degree of deniability, slick propaganda and political and economic pressure – which is a perfect copy of US “Cold” War approaches under its “containment” policy. Like the Chinese, the Russians are copying the American 20th century play-book (by starting a few chapters later). “We“, the United States, set the precedents. In the Crimea, the Russians indeed demonstrated a quite professional capability, which caught the US and Europe completely flatfooted – even with its omniscient NSA intelligence bureaucracy vacuuming up everything everywhere. (American bureaucrats and political appointees had grossly under-estimated the new Russian military capability and thought they could keep on thumbing their noses at Putin’s “third-rate” military, his “thuggish” intelligence services, and his “clumsy” strategic thinking, with impunity.)
Unlike the past, when the Russian military was filled through unpopular conscription, resulting in many disaffected and demoralized members and really poor leadership, the contemporary volunteer force has grown significantly more professional, disciplined and motivated. Relatively high salaries, much better leadership and living standards, a sense of pride in profession, and first-rate equipment have attracted an increasing number of voluntary contract soldiers, whose number is set to exceed 350,000 this year from 295,000 in 2014. The Russian Defense Minister has stated that by the end of 2015 all battalion tactical groups – the core units in the Army, the Airborne Forces and the Marines – will be manned entirely by professional soldiers. The Russian military modernization program has already significantly improved its ground, air and naval forces, including its ground- and submarine-launched intercontinental nuclear missiles, combat jets and helicopters, nuclear-capable long-range bombers, air defense missiles, modern drones and other advanced weapon systems, including even a new tank. This is NOT the old Soviet military; already they are superior to any force fielded by any country in Europe except Great Britain. The US didn’t attack Libya until AFTER Libya had given up its usable weapons of mass destruction and was essentially defenseless against the US super-power. The Russians would have to be total morons NOT to do exactly what they are doing, and more. So “NATO” has finally succeeded in re-creating the “Cold” War – to justify its existence and keep the really dumb Americans carrying the burden and footing the bill.
Such quite significant military personnel improvements have been duplicated in Russia’s foreign covert and clandestine intelligence services, both civilian and military (which can rely on large marginalized or even maligned Russian populations now living abroad for benign or not-so-benign “fifth column” support in former Warsaw Pact satellite states). The Russian army has proven itself quite effective at deploying professional military trainer-advisors in unmarked uniforms to rebel forces in eastern Ukraine seeking to realize “self-determination”. These men operate very similar to the way the US Army’s Special Forces operate with foreign indigenous forces, such as Kurdish forces, even fading away after the shooting stops so rebel forces can take the stage. They are also the primary source of intelligence and assessments in combat areas. American bureaucrats and politicians and appointees may have misjudged the Russians, but the US military did not. Russian reactions to the cumulation of Western arrogance were always entirely predictable, to those who know what they’re doing. We would be enormously smarter to be working with these guys.
8. Instead, we are right back where we started, where we were supposed to have ended in 1990, a whole quarter of a century ago. We are now very close to going even further backwards, forty whole years, to the darkest days of the “Cold” War. How is it even possible to turn the clock backwards 40 years? That feat required truly “brilliant” American foreign policy “leadership” and “thinking” indeed. If I were a Russian, I wouldn’t believe ANYTHING the Americans told me; they have communicated very well with their incredibly stupid actions over quite a long period. Those actions have made the Americans nothing but hypocritical serial liars, dramatically shifting “spin” and approaches with each shift in the domestic American political breezes, with every two-year election cycle. America no longer grows brilliant thinker-leaders up from the bloody trenches who speak the truth to everyone; it nurtures mediocre “special” people expert at following superficial popularity polls who slip in the side door at or near the top and tell their grazing herds whatever they want to hear. Figurehead poll followers have replaced principled population leaders. It’s all perception, zero substance – in which the best liars win.
The American women had already lied to him about their intentions in Libya, but once they had also engineered Gadhafi’s murder in a sewer pipe, Putin, who then felt that nothing was below the Americans, including his own murder, immediately opted to run for his third term and replace Medvedev. Once back in office, by taking full advantage of steadily rising Russian popular animosity toward the West, he has steadily increased his hold on the country and has steadily proceeded to re-build the Mother Russia fortress, first by shoring up strategic weaknesses in her western walls. Yes, the Russian government (like the Ukrainian government and some of the other governments of former Soviet republics) is its characteristic kleptocracy, but the Russian people have a thousand years of experience with this stuff and also with very strong leaders. The corruption is not nearly as reprehensible (or “abnormal”) to them as we say it is to us, nor is it yet limited as well by effective laws and judicial systems. (The Americans are far more adept at coming up with new ways to hide their corruption, such as through ostensibly altruistic entities like the Clinton Foundation and the Open Society Foundation.) And even under constant Western economic pressure, similar to that which the West imposed on Germany after World War I (a comparison immediately seen by the Russians), Putin’s popularity among his own people remains far higher than for any other national leader. This man will never back down. It’s now even doubtful that Putin will ever relinquish his power before his death. Thanks to the Americans, Russia has its new tsar, and a very popular one at that. While our “diplomats” snicker over private communications vacuumed up by NSA from friends and allies, disciplined Russian thinkers have been adjusting to the hard realities presented to them. The Americans, behind rabid Russian-hater Madeline Albright’s maneuvering, have nearly succeeded in turning the clock backwards forty whole years – to the darkest days of the “Cold” War – just when Russia could have been our strongest ally in the fight against global Islamic extremism. Naïve Americans now are hoping that Putin is murdered by his own people, in direct reaction to their efforts to exert severe economic pressures on Russia, i.e., to effect “regime change” by other means. And that, of course, is a telling commentary on today’s America; our childish “leaders” now greatly prefer just killing “difficult” people by remote control from a very safe distance to negotiating adult compromises to the best future interests of both sides. That apparently is a lot easier than actually doing the astute job for which the American people pay their “diplomats”. But unless they can engineer that “plausible denial” assassination in the shadows, their hopes will be in vain. The more the West pushes, the stronger Putin will grow. (See Footnote #4.)
9. “NATO” has long had a “rapid-reaction spearhead” force. It is the very heavily combat-seasoned US Regular Army’s 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade stationed in Vicenza Italy and backed up by its own dedicated airlift capability and the full force of the US military. This professional 3,500-man unit is the only separate airborne brigade in the US Army. So the new token “NATO” unit just adds to the existing capability with a more European flavor (i.e., not nearly as professional, capable or potent).
I firmly believe that Western behavior vis-à-vis Russia over the past twenty years has been a deliberate process by pompous “NATO” politicians and bureaucrats designed solely to keep the dumb Americans footing the lion’s share of Europe’s defense bills plus most of the required military heavy lifting. An alliance needs a reason to exist, and that reason vanished with the fall of Soviet Russia and the Warsaw Pact. So, ever since that happened, the huge and hugely expensive political bureaucracy has been steadfastly devoted to re-creating the essential conventional “enemy” bogeyman needed to keep the US taxpayer and the US military on Europe’s short leash. And dumb Americans have been happy to oblige.
+++++++ End of my notes on Atlantic article +++++++
Making Up Your Own Reality
So people appointed to very high places in the US and Europe are determined to get a LOT of people killed – simply because they are trying to operate FAR beyond their levels of competence and knowledge. On the European side are politicians like the Norwegian socialist Jens Stoltenberg, as the current political head of “NATO”, once a strong friend of left-wing communist Russia but now a virulent opponent of the right-wing Russian Federation, and Italian socialist Federica Mogherini, also a former communist, and now the European Union’s “High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” and her immediate predecessor, British baroness Catherine Ashton, previously a political unknown with no foreign-policy background. On the American side it’s also almost an all-women show, with academic leftist Madeline Albright and her disciples Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Victoria Nuland – all secure in the knowledge that as women they can’t be challenged. Most are appointees who have never won election to anything, know almost nothing about grand strategy and even less about military matters, and are all united behind the same socialist communist ideology and its side dogma of “human rights” – which are, naturally, whatever they say they are. They all possess the same zero level of experience and knowledge concerning military matters, but are VERY eager to use military power to impose their ideology on others. These people will flat-out lie straight in your face to achieve their own social and political objectives, and have no concern at all about “what comes next” or of any “unintended consequences” that accrue. And the last thing that concerns them is the view from the other side.
It is strictly political, rather than military, considerations that are driving all this utter nonsense vis-à-vis Russia.
“Don’t confuse being ‘soft’ with seeing the other guy’s point of view.” – George H.W. Bush, the last American Greatest Generation President.
No one will ever succeed in chess, diplomacy OR warfare if they lack the ability to view and comprehend the board from the other side. Furthermore, it’s not what you say that counts; it’s how your actions are perceived by others. (See Footnote #2.)
And the other side of the board, Russia, perceives a “NATO” that has become increasingly threatening to the national security of Russia over the past twenty years, and most especially over the last five or six years. All anyone has to do is look at the “Cuban Missile Crisis” to see how Russia views “NATO”. They view it exactly as we viewed the Warsaw Pact – as enormously threatening. But now these incompetent appointees and politicians can do and say anything they want, safe in the knowledge that they are hiding behind the world’s only military super-power, a super-power that can hold off Russia. That being the case, Russia has no option but to progressively up the ante in its own defense. And Europe once again has the US military on its short leash – so they can even FURTHER reduce what they spend on their own defense. The Europeans know that Russia’s annual defense spending for the twenty years after 1990 never exceeded a small percentage of that of the US, but now that’s changing, and fast, as Russia once again sees offensive arrogance rising on its western front.
Sooner or later, this stupid process WILL end where no one wants it to end. And neither Congress or the American people will have a say in any of it. Despite some enormously naïve wishful hoping, the Russians, and Vladimir Putin, simply cannot back down.
NATO, Russian officials clash over situation in Europe
Associated Press, 20 March 2015, by John-Thor Dahlburg
BRUSSELS (AP) — Top officials from NATO and Russia clashed sharply in public Friday over who is to blame for the dramatically worsened state of East-West relations.
“The big difference is that we are a defensive alliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a member of Russia’s parliament. “You send troops into other countries.”
((And this idiot expects any sane person to buy such childishly ignorant b.s.? No one needs to send in “troops” to engage in offensive war against another country; bombs will do just fine. So will intercontinental nuclear missiles. Drones can do the job, too. (See Footnote #1.) Besides, what about Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and to really crown it all – Libya. American “diplomats” even flat-out lied to the Russians about their intentions in Libya so the Russians wouldn’t veto “NATO’s” only authority to go to war against another country – a UN “humanitarian” resolution to simply establish a no-fly-zone. A “humanitarian” no-fly zone was established within 36 hours. There was absolutely nothing at all “defensive” about the eight month “NATO” bombing campaign against a mostly defenseless Libya. It is impossible to engage in “regime change” via any means without engaging in offensive war against another sovereign state. “Regime change” was what World War II was all about – and, just like Libya, it didn’t end until that was achieved.
((It’s precisely this sort of bald lies, and emotion-based rationalizations by very ignorant people, intended to fool moronic herds in the West, that really pisses off the Russians. “Truth according to very special me.” Albright and her emotional “human rights” dogma deliberately changed “NATO” from a defensive military alliance into a offensive political alliance – which simply cannot AVOID appearing threatening to Russia, and especially when it’s being manipulated by such incompetent and duplicitous officials. And, what’s even worse, these jerks can say such crap ONLY by making the assumption that the Russians are idiots. So all this Stoltenberg politician is doing is poking a stick in the Russian hornet’s nest – so as to keep the really dumb Americans on Europe’s leash, dumb Americans who think it’s still 1980. Furthermore, just what is the CIA doing with its drones destroying stuff and killing people with “acceptable levels of collateral damage” in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere where “there is no war”? This stuff can make sense only to a lunatic. And the Russians are NOT lunatics. They fully expect that they will be bully America’s next target, even if only by remote-controlled bombs. They are trying hard to convey, in no unmistakable terms, that there will be high prices to pay for such ignorant arrogance against Mother Russia.))
The Russian, Konstantin Kosachev, flatly denied Russia is using its regular troops in Ukraine. He said the U.S.-led alliance talks a lot these days about the need to respect international law and a country’s borders and sovereignty, but that it had bombed a sovereign nation, the former Yugoslavia, in 1999. ((It’s absolutely certain that this is not all he said. See below.))
Stoltenberg and Kosachev, who is the chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia’s Federation Council, spoke at a panel discussion organized by the Brussels Forum, an annual event sponsored by the German Marshall Fund think tank. The discussion, in which U.S. Assistant Secretary of State ((for European and Eurasian Affairs)) Victoria Nuland and the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, also took part, provided repeated and stark evidence of how deep the divide between Russia and the West has become.
At one point, Mogherini said the exchanges seemed to her to come from another century.
((And that’s exactly how what these supremely arrogant women say sounds to the Russians. And to me, too. But Western women don’t HAVE to consider the view from the other side of the board. They can just sit there safely on their unassailable thrones and make noises that do nothing but demonstrate their abject ignorance. Mogherini and her ilk are deliberately pushing EVERYONE into the last century. It’s enough to make you cry that this idiocy can take place in a forum that harkens back to the Marshall Fund and its dedication to the future. Doesn’t anyone have enough spine to ask these women what they think was going on at Pearl Harbor or the London Blitz? The Germans killed over 1,000,000 Russians in Leningrad – without ever entering the city. Bombing another country is unmistakably an offensive “act of war” – and has been so for the past 2,500 years of recorded history. There certainly wouldn’t be any nebulous self-serving rationalizing if those bombs were falling on Washington DC, or Brussels. The only “international body” that has redefined “war” to suit itself is the United States and that silly “NATO” anachronism.))
When the discussion turned to the growing threat of cyber-attacks being used to undermine a country’s economy or security, a tactic of hybrid warfare that many Western sources suspect the Russians of engaging in, Kosachev asked Stoltenberg point-blank if NATO would bomb a country it held responsible for such an assault. ((The US has already officially stated that such a cyber attack against the US would be considered an “act of war” by the United States. Now, is it, or isn’t it? Does this also apply to “NATO”? Just what was the US-Israeli cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear centrifuges? Was that an “act of war”? And what if the US is wrong about just who is making the cyber-attack? Is bombing another country an appropriate response to a cyber attack? And just how is anyone else supposed to interpret this stuff? Who makes up the rules? The biggest bully on the block?))
Nuland jumped in, asking the Russian lawmaker if he was posing a “planning question.” ((A totally stupid question. Of course he is. He has no choice. If he did not, he would be guilty of totally irresponsible abject negligence with his own nation’s security.))
Stoltenberg gave a deliberately murky answer. “We will do what’s necessary to do to protect all allies,” he said. “But I’m not going to tell you exactly how I’m going to do that…that’s the main message.” ((He stupidly gave a “deliberately murky answer” – to insure Russia will reach its own conclusions. So Kosachev will do exactly as we would do – ANYTHING necessary to protect his country from foreign aggression, even if it’s perceived aggression amid all the nightmare confusion created by extremely mushy American and “NATO” “thinking”. And, of course, the best defense is an aggressive offense. The way the West is talking to Russia is absolutely guaranteed to threaten Russian defense security – and provoke fully justified reactions on the part of the Russians. The people speaking for the West are morons.))
++++++++++++ (end AP article) ++++++++++++
What Is The Actual Record?
I’m an American military professional; if I don’t believe what these ignorant ideologues say, why should the Russians?
The Russians don’t think with girly emotion; they think ONLY with cold hard logic. These supremely arrogant politicians and appointees are determined to get the world involved in another VERY dangerous war – just as the US military already has more on its plate than it can handle. Has anyone seen long lines of ground soldier volunteers at their local US Armed Forces recruiting office? To the Europeans, the US is most valuable because it is willing to sacrifice large numbers of its ground soldiers in stupidly managed endeavors – but only when the Americans can be induced, or tricked, into doing so. “I’m far too special to risk my life.” (You can train monkeys (or computers) to push buttons, but neither function so well in ground combat – where actual humans live.)
This “war” with Russia is just monumentally STUPID.
> During the 1990s, Czech-born and London-raised Albright, as an appointed Secretary of State, deliberately changed “NATO” from a defensive alliance into an offensive alliance by twice taking it into the former Yugoslavia (over Bosnia and then Kosovo) – when “NATO” was not threatened at all by Serbia. Regardless of the stated reasons, these were both clearly elective offensive acts on the part of “NATO”. This was an effort to find something for “NATO” to do after its mission had ended with the fall of the Warsaw Pact. But it wasn’t all that successful when the US military, as usual, had to do all the heavy lifting in both Bosnia and Kosovo.
> Later, the effort continued in 2002 by having “NATO” eventually follow the US into Afghanistan to attack the Taliban – when it was not threatened at all by Afghanistan or the Taliban. Regardless of the stated reasons, this was a clearly elective offensive act on the part of “NATO”. This effort was also far from successful, with the US military picking up over 85% of the load, and turning a planned six-month US military effort into a senseless ten year “NATO” political quagmire pretending to be engaged in incredibly expensive, and mostly futile, “nation-building”.
> Then, in 2011, “NATO” again went to war uninvited against a sovereign state, ostensibly on another “humanitarian” mission solely to “establish a no-fly-zone” and “protect innocent life”. It was all a Big Lie. Since Libya threatened no other country, this was also a purely elective offensive act on the part of “NATO”. The actions in the former Yugoslavia and Libya were justified on an “emergency human rights” subterfuge that allowed the US military to go to war in a hurry without a Constitutionally-required declaration from, or even the approval of, Congress, but solely on the basis of a UN “human rights” resolution.
The whole decades-long discussion about a “missile shield” for Europe involves a theoretical attack by air (remote-controlled bombing, no “boots”) – which we, and “NATO”, would view as a clear and unambiguous act of war. So why do we inexplicably view our own air attacks against others as NOT “acts of war”? How is anyone else supposed to interpret all this self-serving nonsense? Is everyone so incompetent that they can’t place themselves in Russia’s position and view the perceptions, and their necessary responses, from the other side of the board?
And then there’s that “self-determination” thing – which the US strongly supports, but ONLY when the “self-determination” goes in the direction the US wants, and NOT when it goes in any other direction. So we support it in Kosovo, but not in eastern Ukraine. We support it in Libya, but not in Kurdistan. Etc.. Just as with defining “war”, we get to play god, by our own rules, with “self-determination”, too. We get to pick and choose who to “save” and who to bomb. It’s not which excuse you use to invade, bomb and destroy another country; it’s the fact that you do, and THAT is usually based on nothing more than the fact that you CAN.
The Russians KNEW within hours after the UN resolution passed that the bombing of Libya was solely an effort to get a free ride on the “Arab Spring” to give Clinton a “foreign policy achievement” for her 2016 presidential campaign. The stated reasons were totally false. The objective, even before the UN resolution passed, was always really about “regime change”. (“Regime change” is a goal of war – which would require a formal declaration from the US Congress.) As soon as Gadhafi was killed, these women were positively gloating over Clinton’s “victory”, and quite publically. (Check the e-mails. Check U-Tube.) “We came. We saw. He’s dead.” (cackle, cackle) When it all began women’s groups everywhere, including their tens of thousands of mouthpieces in the press and media, were trumpeting “Hillary’s War” with great pride. Today NO ONE even wants to mention it. This is because (1) with no “NATO” “boots on the ground”, Libya is now the fully predictable disaster it was always destined to become after the Gadhafi regime was destroyed, (2) some really dumb Republicans so easily took the bait, and (3) a whole gang of unaccountable privileged “birthright entitled” American women trying to operate far beyond their competence levels were running it all with nothing but expedient lies. The “NATO” mission in Libya was always, from the very beginning, about “killing Gadhafi” under an entirely phony “human rights” cover, based on nothing but made-up State Department “intelligence” (propaganda).
And THAT’S not offensive? It sure is offensive to me. The Russians are not fools, either.
The Russians also KNEW what State, USAID and their contractors were doing in the Kiev shadows to manipulate crowds, engineer a coup and stack a new government with stooges. The KGB/FSB was right there watching, in force. Since it only took two days to guarantee a “no-fly-zone” in Libya, the re-claiming of Crimea was a 95% foregone conclusion on the third day of bombing; it became an absolute certainty the minute the Russians released audio intercepts of Nuland’s telephone conversations deciding on the new Ukrainian leadership even before the coup was finished. Nuland’s actions in Kiev guaranteed that Russia would re-claim Crimea, and Russia clearly signaled its intention by releasing Nuland’s recorded conversations. Based on twenty years of “NATO” actions, Russia simply could not just sit there and watch these duplicitous schemers preemptively deny Russia its critical naval access to warm-water seas. Such things are logical military realities, not just emotional politics.
Most Americans don’t seem to understand what’s been going on. Since the end of the “Cold” War, the US military has been steadily transformed from “Defender Of The Nation” into the “President’s Very Own World Cop” – engineered and directed by emotion-based political appointees in which an impotent Congress is only supposed to obediently pay the bills after-the-fact. The US military itself has been transformed from a defensive military force into an offensive force that will go wherever it is directed to go, and in any offensive posture it chooses, regardless of any real or perceived threat to American national security. (For a summary of how this evolution occured, see Footnote #1 to “Getting Gadhafi“.) In almost all cases, there is zero threat to the US, to US citizens or even to direct US defense interests. (Maybe, coupled with “human rights”, another reason is to keep that humongous US-European “military-industrial complex” churning out all that expensive conventional military hardware, filling up our deserts, for example, with thousands of $8.6 million-dollar tanks the Army doesn’t need and doesn’t want – on the US taxpayer’s dime. “Build it; eventually we’ll find a way to use it.” This aspect helps explain why the button-pushing US Air Force and US Navy are always out there in front beating war drums; ships and planes are much more applicable to conventional warfare – which requires a conventional enemy. Ground soldiers don’t provide a lot of civilians with steady jobs making nifty toys, nor do they need a bunch of people pushing their buttons.) This scares the hell out of a lot of average people in the world – and a lot of governments, too, and justifiably so. Military aggression is now the default American “negotiating” position. “My way or the highway.” It’s the clearest possible reflection of just how intellectually bankrupt have became those we now elevate to positions of “leadership”, usually via quota appointment.
Behind It All – Ideology
Americans are also thoroughly confused about political ideology. They seem to think it’s all about conservatives versus liberals in the American context. But that’s only part of the story, and arguably the smaller part. Americans think that socialist communism died with the implosion of the Warsaw Pact. But it didn’t. Soviet communism disappeared, but socialist communism definitely did not. It simply changed its name (“progressive” is a favorite substitute), married with “birthright entitled” “feminism”, and became much more slick, subtle and sophisticated. The communist ideology is very much alive and well, thank you, including in shadows of the US Congress, and it is STILL aggressively engaged in the same communist battle against capitalism. It’s all now hidden behind various new names and labels, safe in the knowledge that giant herds of citizens with dismally poor educations are now so very easily fooled with slick propaganda, especially propaganda that can stampede herds in social media. These “elitists” even figured out how to use capitalism, and dumb “gung-ho” conservatives, to wage a big part of the battle against themselves.
And now these emotional political animals are succeeding in moving the world BACKWARDS forty whole years to the darkest days of the “Cold” War. What is now so ironic is that the assault from the extreme left-wing now comes from the West, and it’s directed against the right-wing Russians – a complete reversal of the situation forty years ago.
How did this truly amazing reversal happen?
The factor most responsible for the Russian government’s shift to the political right has been, not Vladimir Putin, but the resurgence of the Christian Russian Orthodox Church – which has far greater influence throughout all of Russia beyond the very privileged Moscow enclave – after seven decades of persecution and oppression under Soviet communism. One of the first decrees of the new Communist government in 1918 declared freedom from “religious and anti-religious propaganda”. The Soviet Union was the first state to have elimination of religion as an ideological objective. Vehement opposition to religious beliefs and traditional values is a principle hallmark of socialist communism. The communist state began aggressively arresting and executing bishops, priests and devout worshippers, and the number of Orthodox churches in Russia fell from 30,000 to less than 500 by 1940. A second wave of persecution took place in the early-1960s (under Premier Khrushchev during the Kennedy presidency in the US) when members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had mandatory ties with the KGB.
A pivotal turning point finally came in the summer of 1988 under Mikhail Gorbachev when major government-supported celebrations took place in Moscow and other cities honoring the 1,000-year history of the Russian Orthodox Church. For the first time in the history of the Russia, people in 1988 could see live transmissions of church services on television, and those services could be viewed in all corners of the country. Today there are well over 30,000 functioning Orthodox parishes in Russia, and the church occupies a protected position in both culture and government. In fact, much of the Russian Federation government takes its social policy cues from the Orthodox Church, as conveyed directly by its patriarch in Moscow to the highest Federation leadership. That church is also able to keep its finely tuned finger on the pulse and psychology of the vast majority of the Russian people throughout the country and deep into the hinterland. Among Christian churches, the Russian Orthodox Church is second in the world only to the Roman Catholic Church (which it closely resembles in orthodoxy) in terms of numbers of followers; about 75% of Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox Church. This identity is especially true in the vast hinterland of “Mother Russia”. Like most religions, the Orthodox Church both teaches and reflects a rather conservative orthodoxy of traditional values and belief structures.
On the other side, Western Europe is overwhelmingly dominated by the political left, to an enormous degree. Some of their best-known “thinkers”, like the French socialist pseudo-philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, profess to have a “broad world view” but are actually extremely intolerant of any view that is more than a half-inch right of direct center, and a center that is already decidedly on the left side (much further left than is the “center” in the US). These people simply have an ingrained visceral hatred of any view that comes out of conservative thinking on the right side of politics. Such knee-jerk hatred is in their genes, reinforced and solidified over a lifetime of incestuous discussion and in-breeding with only their own kind, and it severely inhibits their ability to view the board from the other side, to reach intelligent compromise, to even consider that perhaps their own view could use a little fresh insight. They are NOT interested in even listening to that other view; they are interested ONLY in its total destruction, as rapidly as possible and by any means possible. And THAT is the crux of the problem with Russia under Vladimir Putin, who happens to be a head-of-state who freely espouses views that come out of right field, from conservative political philosophy. (And, since his country is closer, Putin is hated by these leftist fanatics more than they hated even US presidents Bush II or Ronald Reagan.)
These European leftists will dance around, barely endure, almost non-existent differences between France’s Sarkozy on the “right” and Hollande on the left (differences which, just as in the US, are 97% rhetorical), but the minute the discussion goes into actually meaningful differences, say into that espoused by France’s Le Pen on the further right, they go into their “anti-Hitler” mode, trot out all the old familiar labels of “xenophobic”, “racist”, “fascist”, etc., and seek only total destruction of any view that does not to conform to “my enlightened leftist thinking” (socialist communism). These are people every bit as intolerant of meaningful differing views as are the crazies of ISIS in the Mid-East. And they are every bit as “fascist” as those whom they accuse of such tendencies in the West. (Marine Le Pen’s National Front party today, very different from that of her father, is on a political par similar to the American Tea Party movement, or the UK Independence Party, or Finland’s Finns Party, etc. – and all are equally vilified in the European and US leftist “news” media – “before they can become really dangerous.”) It never dawns on them that, while incessantly counseling “tolerance” for everyone else, these are among the most intolerant people on planet Earth.
As long as the conservative Putin is the President of Russia, there will be zero Western effort to view the board from his side, and thus zero possibility of achieving reasonable compromise. Lévy, for example, is most in love with the sound of his own voice, and his voice is just inexhaustible, but he is also very adept at arranging meetings of hand-picked people he wants to support with senior decision-makers at critical moments, to, in effect, manipulate events as they happen – by controlling the narrative through all means, public and private, available to him. This guy’s narrative can even trump sound US intelligence assessments with naïve American appointees in high places. An important tactic is to ensure that only one side of the narrative is available for presentation. Lévy and his ilk have absolutely no reservations about saying, with the most extreme arrogance possible, “I am not interested in the view from the other side! It doesn’t make any difference to me how they view things! I don’t care at all about allowing them a way out! I want to eradicate them from Earth!” There is zero middle ground here, folks. It’s no wonder they make such perfect bedfellows with “feminists”. These people are far too accustomed to screaming whatever nonsense they wish, demanding whatever they want, very safely under their own socialist societies and the protection of the US and its military super-power eager to keep doing their bidding. (The last time they were ever challenged on any aspect of their thinking was 75 years ago, under right-wing extremist Nazism, and it is that extremist challenge from the right that forms their totally inflexible world view and their regard for any political view that is not in full conformity to their own. Western Europe experienced the extreme excesses of right-wing Nazism, but it did not experience the equally extreme excesses of left-wing Soviet communism.) Negotiation is useful to them only when they can dictate the results (as was Madeline Albright’s usual tactic). Russia and its president have no alternative except to act in their own self-interests in full acceptance of how they are being boxed in, confronted, vilified by obdurate Western ideologues. These fanatics don’t care one bit about the rights of others; they care ONLY about “Glorious Me And What I Want, Now!”
(And, of course, you can see the same two-sided childish intransigence in American politics, characterized as it is by only two political parties diametrically opposed to each other and unable to view things from the other side in order to reach adult compromise to facilitate forward motion. The result rarely rises above the asinine level of divorce court, aggravated by marginal shysters driven by their own profit motives.)
These leftist extremists seek nothing less than “regime change” in Russia, just as they did in Libya, and since they cannot vote in Russian elections, they will work doggedly through international “human rights” organizations to accomplish that by forcing a popular uprising as a consequence of Western economic “sanctions” that severely hurt the Russian people, while also fomenting revolution in the shadows via support to opposition groups, and even a possible proxy political assassination. (State, USAID and CIA will work these same angles, including financial support to opposition political candidates, either directly or indirectly through their many contractor or “non-profit” entities offering some measure of “plausible deniability”.) Propaganda, outright lies, and blame-shifting are absolutely guaranteed to be integral parts of the equation. All of these tactics have been part and parcel of the leftist toolbox for a half century. Western Europe will also continue to place enormous pressure on “NATO”, and thus on the US military, to progressively up the ante – to “solve” their political “problem” by military force. Naïve Americans will once again find themselves in the incredible position of funding and resourcing a repeat of the “Cold” War. It’s déjà vu, all over again – for Americans who were never taught how to think.
Americans As Born Suckers
So “NATO” is just another means to the ends of leftist political ideologues in the US and Western Europe. While I understand all this stuff, my chief focus is on the military angle. It’s obvious, after so many other failures, that only when all of Europe perceives a common external conventional military threat can “NATO” have a defendable justification for existing and preserving all those high-paying “NATO” jobs with their self-inflated “sense of importance” on the backs of the US military and the US taxpayer. A military alliance is justified only when all members equally perceive the same external conventional threat. This, of course, is the sole justification for a military alliance; its definition then includes a fully equitable burden shared by all members. (Unconventional threats, never perceived equally, are far “too messy and dangerous and confusing”, which explains why “NATO” has almost no unconventional capability.) So “NATO” politicians have progressively been re-building, or re-creating, that ever-essential common conventional enemy: Russia. “A conservative Russia, with its conventional military, meets Europe’s political and economic needs; let the American soldiers fight that unconventional Islamic militant extremism stuff. I’m far too special to risk my life. My interest is solely in establishing socialist communism throughout the West, while getting the dumb Americans to pick up as much of the tab as possible.” (This, of course, is where the definition of the “NATO” alliance fails.)
This is why European “NATO” politicians are so pissed off that the Russians are now employing what they call “hybrid” warfare; the Russians are “cheating” by operating unconventionally – and upsetting the whole European applecart.
But it gets even more exacting than this. Some American politicians are making loud noises that “the US must build up” “NATO” to meet the “Russian threat” before the sky falls. This is just stupid. If the Europeans feel threatened, it seems to the rational mind that the Europeans could very well build themselves up. After all, the EU has both a population and an economy larger than the US. It’s been obvious for a quarter of a century that the slick Europeans are just playing the dumb “macho” Americans for fools – to keep the US taxpayer funding their own defense requirements. That’s why, even in the face of the falling sky, they have been progressively reducing their own defense spending for the past dozen years. But the one thing the Europeans want most are professional American ground combat soldiers, which the US alone is always eager to sacrifice in its causes-of-the-moment. The Europeans are far too “special” to risk their own lives in wars where they might actually get hurt, so those “expendable” American ground soldiers are the most important thing there is. Even the focus of all the attention in Europe – Ukraine – has a very major problem with young men leaving the country to avoid the male draft – with many thousands of these draft dodgers even moving to sanctuary in Russia!
Other American politicians are even making loud noises to supply small arms to Ukraine “to enable the country to better defend itself.” This is just more ignorant nonsense. Up until the recent “crisis”, Ukraine was one of the world’s largest open- and black-market arms dealers. In fact, just a year before we killed Gadhafi in a sewer, Ukraine had delivered 100,000 automatic rifles to Libya. So why does the US, or anyone else, have to supply MORE weapons to Ukraine that they obviously don’t know how to use and are far more interested in selling to others? (We even worked with the Russians to remove old Russian nuclear weapons and materiel from Ukraine – where it was vulnerable to Ukrainian black market operators, including those in government, willing to sell it to anyone, including Islamic militant extremists.)
Sometimes the utter nonsense that comes out of the mouths of American talking heads and politicians is just brain-dead stupid. So why doesn’t anyone ever call them out on their nonsense? And just who made the US the planet’s sole World Cop? (Quite obviously, based on the evidence over the past 14 years, it’s a role our politicians play just miserably anyway.) Even far worse, all the “thinking” these brainless puppets use was done for them by our Greatest Generation parents – for a world that ceased to exist 25 years ago. Can’t the Baby Boomers do their own thinking, write their own books for the century we actually live in, for the century AHEAD of us?
The super-majority of voters in America is women and their clones, and all they see is a LOT of women appointed to very high places and calling the shots. They have almost no understanding at all of the political ideology involved, or where it will lead, of what those shots mean. And their knowledge of military matters borders on the inane. It’s just that all that power in the hands of those women makes “me” feel “special” and powerful, too. The fact that they don’t really know what they’re doing is irrelevant. Perception is everything. The “unintended consequences” are for “someone else” to worry about.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it!
Just how will history, and our children, judge American “leadership” at this critical moment? Even if no one today has enough courage to challenge the “thinking”, someday someone will. In the end, “truth will out”. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Sooner or later one of those ignorant idiots is going to make a colossal mistake – simply because no one ever challenged their “thinking”.
And, of course, Russia is not the only major problem now facing the United States. Everyone knows that China owns trillions of dollars of American debt in the form of solid bonds that pay good interest and which must eventually be re-purchased. The amount of this debt has risen astronomically since the rise of the Baby Boomers in the 1970s. Even worse, the US has had to import millions of Third World babies needed as future taxpayers to not only pay interest on that debt but also to pay for all the lucrative birthright entitlements demanded by the Baby Boomers and their far-too-few children. China has been rapidly building its own military to protect its interests in its neighborhood and on the world’s sea lanes. And in March 2015 China announced that it intends to open the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, capitalized with $4 Trillion of mostly US reserves, which will make low-cost loans to the Asian developing world for critical infrastructure projects at standards lower than either the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund – both dominated by the US taxpayer. Much to the surprise of the Americans, who are used to controlling world financial matters, Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany all quickly agreed to become founding members of China’s AIIB and more such states, like Brazil, are expected to follow soon. So the money the US government borrows to pay for its own operations will now be used by China to buy significant influence … for China. And our European “allies” will be significantly assisting them. And China, of course, is following the book written by America’s Greatest Generation … for the last century. You don’t “project power” by military might alone; sooner of latter the lack of money behind the military undermines the power of everything. Pretty soon we won’t have any option except to consider how others perceive us … as our first step.
In THIS century, I would greatly prefer to have Russia on MY side. Any actually sane military expert would.
(For a brief discussion of some basic fundamentals about military forces and warfare – which most Americans, including many in the foreign affairs and military arenas, seem to have considerable difficulty understanding – see “Smiling Faces And Purple Fingers – And Egypt“, posted separately. The article was written in 2010 and remains solid; it explains why we keep making the same mistakes in our “thinking” about “power”.)
P.S. Propaganda Wars. If you listen carefully to the American descriptions of Russian propaganda concerning Ukraine, it sounds the exact opposite of Russian descriptions of American propaganda about Ukraine. It’s so black-white, on BOTH sides, with no middle ground, no reservations or self-doubt, etc., that it’s impossible NOT to suspect very carefully orchestrated campaigns on BOTH sides. (I just wish the Americans churning out that crap had tried their expert hands at churning out propaganda against Islamic militant extremism when American soldiers were dying like flies. Such US government propaganda is a mission function of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, an office that has also been filed by a long list of women appointees, mostly from the marketing and political arenas, padding their résumés.) Truth, of course, lies somewhere between the two views, but there is no effort on either side to even seek that middle truth. To a guy who’s been there, done that, throughout much of the “Cold” War, I feel like I’ve slipped into a time warp, and came out in 1984. The only difference is that the Russian propaganda campaign makes more sense, is better managed, more effective internally and externally, and has sound strategic objectives for the future of Russian national security, while the American side doesn’t seem to rise above the level of trite old school books, mass hysteria, group think, herd mentality — with the only objective to move the world BACKWARDS. And THAT has to be the epitome of national stupidity, and most especially when you consider the other major threats out there that are common to both countries. To a sane person, it’s all totally inexplicable. (It’s mainly just a matter of European politicians manipulating the dumb Americans just to keep the US military and the American taxpayer on Europe’s short leash. I’ve seen that before, too.)
Footnote #1. What Is War? There is an infantile notion out there among mentally challenged people that “it isn’t war unless you put boots on the ground,” in which “boots” refers to ground soldiers actually risking their lives. This notion is just stupid. When you follow the “logic” you end up just disgusted. What it really is saying is, “I am not making war when I am too cowardly to risk anything of my own and just do it from a very safe distance where only those on the other side get hurt, maimed or killed.” Or, “It’s only war when ‘very special me’ says it’s war, and I’m far too special to risk anything of my own.” Or this: “We built this high-tech remote control bombing capability because we are too cowardly to incur risk when we go about destroying stuff and killing people from a very safe distance. This capability also allows us to destroy countries from afar so we don’t incur a responsibility to fix what we break.”
Is that really your America, your “home of the brave”? (Always examine the premises.)
We definitely would NOT accept such idiotic rationalizations from anyone making them to us.
War is a state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties. There are no confines to the nature of the conflict, to how it is waged. War is war. Period. No one needs to send in “troops” to engage in offensive war against another country; bombs will do just fine. So will intermediate or intercontinental nuclear missiles. Chemical or biological artillery shells will also suffice. Drones can do the job, too. All of these when executed in other states are clear acts of war. The US had no difficulty regarding commercial airliners deliberately flown by hijackers into American buildings as acts of war. The US has also officially stated that even a remotely controlled computer “cyber attack” against the US would be considered an “act of war”. (And the US became the first nation to engage in such an act of war by launching a cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.) Is there any doubt that economic sanctions imposed against the United States would also be viewed by the United States as “acts of war”?
No one paused for one second to properly label the 1940 German bombing of London or the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor as unambiguous acts of war. The Japanese during World War II actually bombed continental America and Canada with large unmanned balloons traveling from Japan at 33,000 feet on the jet stream – the first intercontinental ballistic missiles. (Most of the balloons reaching land were kept secret so as not to confirm to the Japanese their degree of effectiveness, but at least one did reach all the way to Detroit.)
None of these methods of war involve ground soldiers.
When the United States government, including either the CIA or the US military, deliberately drops bombs on another country it is unambiguously engaging in offensive war against that country. If the politicians are too cowardly, then the first bomb dropped is the declaration of war. Because of our own very murky “thinking”, the Islamic militant extremists repeatedly for years tried to officially declare war on the United States, without success. Even blowing up American diplomatic missions didn’t get the point across. With zero understanding of unconventional warfare, we simply refused to regard them as anything other than an irritating gnat on an elephant’s ass. As an entirely unconventional enemy, with no naval capability of its own, it even tried the clearest possible declaration of war that had stood in Western civilization for millennia – it mounted a very effective and deadly attack against an American warship. And still the dumb Americans didn’t get the message. Someone should send them ALL back to grade school.
And, yes, all of this does apply equally to military alliances like “NATO”.
You cannot make up rules governing international behavior that do not also apply to you; no one has appointed the United States as “The World’s Mommy”.
The United States does not enjoy in the world the same power that women and other perpetual “victim” groups do in America – to simply dictate to everyone else, to demand whatever they want, according to their own self-serving made-up rules, at the expense of everyone else. Sorry, ladies. There are people out there who are not as cowardly as American men, and they will call your hand.
The only reason why such nonsense about “war” exists in American popular “thinking” is because politicians were seeking ways to circumvent the United States Constitution’s requirement to limit the ability of a President to act like an 17th century monarch, for the US Congress to decide whether or not the nation goes to war, for the American people to have a say in whether or not they wish to expend their wealth and lives in foreign adventures, to have it all examined and debated in public, and then to make such a formal declaration in no unmistakable terms. Another part of the reason why someone came up with this utter nonsense was to find some way to “justify” allowing a civilian agency (CIA) to use weapons of war outside the rules of warfare (and outside US military legal accountability) to kill people in other countries by remote control from a very safe distance. In truth, there is no provision for it in either US or international law. And the Russians know all of this. By all definitions, the CIA is waging war, according to its own rules, and in so doing, is establishing precedents that WILL be used by others, against us. The CIA was also the first to engage in cyber warfare – with its attack on Iran’s nuclear facility computers. How silly do we look when protesting when others do the same against us? Doesn’t anyone in government know how to think?
See Footnote #1 to “Enhanced Interrogation” (Cyber Warfare: “Stuxnet”, Olympic Gate, and the Imperial Presidency).
Such self-serving “thinking” is not just grossly ignorant; it’s also just grossly stupid. All it does is create far more and bigger problems than it “solves”. Ever-shifting emotion-based “thinking” has turned America’s entire position in the world into one big meaningless mess of mush, signifying nothing but confusion and incompetence.
How will our children respond when this idiocy is applied against them? Sooner or later it surely will. We set the precedents that eventually others will definitely use against us.
What Is A Win? During the 1990s the US Air Force, hyper-inflated by its own high-tech stealth air power, was actually declaring in public that the Air Force would win all future wars, and that the Army would be relegated to simply protecting Air Force bases. The US Navy, similarly hyper-inflated by its own advanced technology, was not far from this with its own philosophy of war in the 21st century. Of course, the only logical way to challenge a single conventional super-power is unconventionally – which is precisely how the US conventional super-power will be challenged until there is again another equally powerful conventional super-power in the world. After fourteen years of unconventional war, in which Army and Marine ground soldiers with rifles have incurred over 98% of the combat casualties, it seems there may have been a flaw or two in both Air Force and Navy “thinking”. The most potent conventional military force in the history of humanity has been held to a stand-still for fourteen years by an entirely unconventional enemy that does not possess one single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone. All we have really accomplished is the deaths of a truly enormous number of humans, and who knows how many of them were just innocent bystanders? Our greatest achievement has been to significantly assist the other side’s recruitment efforts.
Of course, you also have to consider what is a “win” in war. If all it involves is destroying stuff and killing people from a very safe distance, then both the US Air Force and US Navy may be correct. But unless you are ready to kill everyone, those who survive such a war may have other ideas. You may end up discovering that all you have done is create far greater problems – which is generally what happens when you simply kill people and destroy stuff and then walk away. Just look at Libya, Iraq, 1990s Afghanistan. Wars are not decided in the air or on the sea; they are decided on the ground where actually thinking humans live. All bombs do is create holes in the landscape – holes that will be filled. It’s the ability to influence what fills those holes that determines the outcomes of wars. And that can only be done by highly competent and knowledgeable soldiers on the ground. But before finally making that re-discovery – as old as civilization – how many countries and peoples will pay the price of American arrogance and incredibly simplistic “thinking”?
Even after the long American super-power experience in Vietnam and the long Russian super-power experience in Afghanistan, both of which were unconventional warfare losses, the high-tech single US super-power did not win in Afghanistan, did not win in Iraq, and did not win in Libya – mainly because humans in high places made critical errors in their “thinking” about conventional and unconventional ground warfare. (And, yes, it’s a lot like doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result each time. It’s the “thinking” of idiots.)
The conventional US military can adequately defend the nation from conventional foreign aggression – which, of course, is the sole reason why the nation has a Department of Defense and its military services. (Whenever tasked to commit military resources to an elective mission, one that is not critical to the nation’s defense, the US military under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, must ensure that it is holding back sufficient resources to meet its primary, and most sacred, purpose.) But “winning” elective wars elsewhere for different reasons is quite another matter. And the ability of unconventional warfare to balance things up has been out there since the dawn of civilization. The US Army knows something our politicians haven’t yet figured out: Humans adapt. This is what the Greatest Generation was saying with all those great 1970s Army field manuals on unconventional warfare – which their brilliant Baby Boomer children tossed out.
Footnote #2. Understanding The Other Side. The following is a quite insightful article – which too few will ever read. Despite the obligatory barbs thrown at Russia’s current conservative President, the author is correct even with his broad-brush approach: the best way to understand other cultures is to understand how its people view themselves. Russians KNOW their literature, just as well as they KNOW their history. How many Americans today can say that about theirs?
What Russian Literature Tells Us About Vladimir Putin’s World
The country’s great authors put Russia’s aggression in context better than any intel briefing can.
Foreign Policy, 2 June 2015, by James Stavridis*
Want to really understand what’s going on in Russia? Get rid of that CIA report full of dusty Cold War tropes. Forget the NSA intercepts or spy satellite imagery. And drop the jargon-filled scholarly analysis from those political science journals.
Instead, get back to the richest literary gold mine in the Western world: Russian novels and poetry. Read Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, and Bulgakov. That’s where you’ll really find how Russians think. And it’s all unclassified!
Begin with Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 masterpiece, Dead Souls. It is the blackest of black humor, a story in which a mysterious businessman moves through the Russian countryside “buying up souls” (i.e., taking away a tax burden from the estate owners). It is an absurdist construct, and the novel functions as a satiric portrait of the dysfunctional Russian landowner society that eventually fell in the 1917 revolution. It tells us that Russians see the world as somewhat absurd and contradictory, and hardly a place where overarching humanist value systems triumph. For a nation whose leader struts around the world stage without a shirt on, plays with a pet Siberian tiger, and flies in a motorized mini-plane chasing white storks, there is a certain appeal to the absurd. It is a novel that evokes the most skeptical and cynical in the human condition and appropriately ends abruptly in mid-sentence — a signal of the inability to predict a coherent future.
How will Russians fight and what kind of leaders do they follow? Want to understand their patriotism? Go read the master, Leo Tolstoy. His sweeping 1869 epic, War and Peace, shows us how the Russians think about their ability to fight, and illuminates the deep patriotism that fuels today’s nationalist tendencies. Tolstoy makes clear the largest landmass under national sovereignty in the world is literally unconquerable, even by the brilliance of Napoleon. Moscow might burn, but the Russian military will never give up. Tolstoy also debunks the 19th-century theory of world events once-called “the great man” approach, arguing instead that events are driven by the collision of thousands of small events coming together. And when it comes to leaders, Russians throw the cosmic dice: One time they get an Ivan the Terrible, the next a Peter the Great. They know that eventually the dice will roll again, and a new leader will emerge. The bad news is that what comes after Putin may be even worse, given the growing xenophobia and ultra-nationalism. As we look at Putin’s dominance, we should remember that the dice will roll again. The Russians do.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment spins a tale that captures the Russian sensibility perfectly: A deeply troubled protagonist chooses to kill, but then is haunted by guilt and — encouraged by the good people around him — eventually confesses. He is then purified and ultimately achieves redemption. The central character, Raskolnikov, is a largely sympathetic figure, full of tragic contradictions, who strays into a brutal crime but is redeemed through punishment and faith. While it is hard to see Putin as a Raskolnikov, perhaps there is a touch of that pattern of redemption in the life and times of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch turned political opposition leader, who was jailed and then finally released. The next chapter of his journey will be an interesting one. Russians have a deep belief in their own goodness and justness, recognizing mistakes will be made along the road to righteousness. They believe in both crime and punishment in a very literal sense.
Think the Russians will crack under sanctions? Try reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the 1962 novel by dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His protagonist, a convict in a Siberian gulag, finds a hundred ways to scrape through the day, dealing with the petty corruption, laughing at the predicaments, occasionally reveling in the harsh conditions of his imprisonment, and powerfully exhibiting the ability to overcome adversity. Like Denisovich, Russians will find an ironic pleasure in overcoming the pain of sanctions, and we should not put too much faith in our ability to break their will through imposing economic hardships.
For something more modern, try One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko. It’s a foot soldier’s memoir set in Chechnya during the height of the war there in the 1990s waged by the Russian conscript military against the rebellious population. This is counterinsurgency turned upside down — the Russians aren’t trying to win the hearts and minds; they are quite content with putting a bullet into each. The book is a good view into the mind of any conscripted force sent to Ukraine — which explains why it is the Spetsnaz special forces, not regular troops, who are operating across the border. There is much to learn here about the Russian military’s operational approach: The Russians have learned from their mistakes in Chechnya and in Afghanistan, and the new so-called hybrid war is full of lessons they took away. In Ukraine, the use of social media, strategic communications, humanitarian convoys, insurgent techniques, and cyber dominance all come from the Chechnya experience. ((While we quickly “forgot” all the lessons of Vietnam.))
And finally, to understand the view of the Russian émigré, the brilliant Russian-American novelist Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan captures the post-Soviet space better than any book of non-fiction. Set in Moscow and a thinly disguised Azerbaijan (a former republic of the USSR, in case you forgot), it serves up a portrait of Russian “capitalism” with a huge dose of black humor. It echoes Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a magical realist novel written in the 1930s, in its evocation of the Russians’ ability to exist quite happily in a world where everything is half a beat off the music.
As Russia becomes increasingly isolated from Europe and the West over everything from the annexation of Crimea to the jailing of Pussy Riot and the treatment of gays and lesbians, their society will increasingly reject the “norms” of the West and become more “the other” — a place they have been before.
What does all this tell us about the current flow of events?
Russians correctly view themselves as inheritors of something bigger than just another a huge country — they see Mother Russia as the repository of deep and powerful life philosophies through a vibrant literature. They are unbelievably tough under pressure and take a perverse pleasure in demonstrating they can outlast anyone.
The Russian military, while still largely a conscripted brute force instrument, can be crafty and wily in combat, trying and adopting new techniques like the hybrid warfare we see in Ukraine today. Russians are skeptical of alliances, remain xenophobic and nationalistic, and have enormous doubts about everyone else’s motives. They see a dark world of forces aligned against them and will continue to use their traditional tools — a bitter reservoir of dark humor, superhuman endurance in the face of adversity, and a clever tactical approach — to try and carry the day. They are masters of playing a bad hand of cards well.
And what of Russian leaders? Dostoyevsky said about one key character in his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, that “Anger was buried far too early in a young heart, which perhaps contained much good.” A description of the young Putin? Perhaps. Certainly, the soaring polls that buoy the Russian president today contain a component of sympathy which stems from intense nationalism, Orthodox faith, an appreciation of the fickleness of the hand of fate, and the salving power of dark humor — all of which run consistently through Russian literature. It bodes well for Vladimir Putin.
We can, of course, learn a great deal about Russia from traditional sources of non-fiction and analysis — history, biography, memoir, political science, and international economics — but literature is the true lens. If you want to understand the Russian mind, remember that no other culture esteems its writers more than Russia. Every Russian can — and frequently does — quote Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Gogol; whereas you would be hard pressed to get a line of Whitman, Hemingway, or Toni Morrison out of a typical American. Whether or not Putin reads on a daily basis (though some reports indicate he enjoys Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy) Russian literature shapes his worldview and illuminates the decisions of the Kremlin in powerful, focused prose. Maybe don’t start with War and Peace (if you haven’t heard, it’s pretty long), but pick up a novel and start reading.
++++++++++++++++++++++ (End article.)
*Stavridis (60) is a 1976 distinguished graduate of the US Naval Academy. He earned a PhD and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in International Relations in 1984, where he won the Gullion Prize as outstanding student. He is also a 1992 distinguished graduate of the US National War College.
Stavridis is a retired four-star US Navy admiral who last served as Commander of the US European Command (USEUCOM) and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), 2009 – 2013.
He is now Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, the oldest school in the US dedicated solely to graduate studies in international affairs. He is also Chairman of the Board of the US Naval Institute and an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
Stavridis is the grandson of a Greek schoolteacher expelled from Turkey in the 1920s who left in a small boat and made his way to Athens and then to America’s Ellis Island. The brother of his grandfather was killed by the (Ottoman) Turks in one of their genocidal pogroms. The grandson eventually returned to his grandfather’s home of Smyrna (Izmir) commanding a billion-dollar American destroyer.
My own interest in Russia was ignited by Russian classic literature when I was about 15, beginning with the beautifully poetic prose of Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago“, and I found it all just incredibly fascinating. It was a whole other exciting and riveting world that make perfect sense in its own context — always both most dysfunctional and quite amazing at the same time, alternating from the deeply dark of one moment to the resplendent brilliance of the next, the human condition in all its contradictions. What kind of people would, and could, build a great city like St. Petersburg in a huge swamp?
Today, works from all of those Russian writers cited by Stavridis are in my library, and every one is a hefty leather-bound, gold-edged collector edition. Gogol’s “Dead Souls“; Tolstoy’s “War And Peace” and “Anna Karenina” and “Resurrection” and “Short Stories“; Dostoyevsky’s “Crime And Punishment” and “Brothers Karamazov” and “The Idiot” and “The Possessed” and “The Gambler” and “Notes From The Underground” and “The House Of The Dead“; Puskin’s “Eugene Onegin” and “The Golden Cockerel“; Babchenko’s “One Soldier’s War“, Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich“; plus Chekhov, Turgenev, Pasternak, even a collection of Russian folk tales. (I don’t have Shteyngart’s “Absurdistan “, but I’ve read excerpts.) I would like to find the time to read Sholokhov’s “Quiet Flows The Don“, four epic volumes depicting the lives and struggles of Don Cossacks during the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War.
Vladimir Putin plays to the Russian people, to “Mother Russia”, and he plays to them extremely well. Russian nationalism is quite similar to American nationalism, but far more passionate, far more from the depths of the soul, undiluted by the massive immigration that has made America so heterogeneous. Putin does what Russians expect of leaders – assertively, but with a sensitive finger on the pulse of a people seeking lost pride. The Russians do NOT want to get themselves once again “boxed in”, at the mercy of foreign lunatics invading from the west with all their enormously destructive power lusting after the Motherland’s vast natural resources. Sure, there are “liberal” elements in Moscow and St Petersburg who do most of the talking to the western media (and diplomatic community), but these people are “western-trained” and thus light years from the overwhelming majority of the much more conservative Russian people. Those seeking to understand Russia today would do themselves a far greater favor by speaking to leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church (which is a fact that the western pro-secular and anti-religion ideologues refuse to acknowledge, much less appreciate).
I’ve tried and tried, but I just can’t seem to explain all this adequately to Americans, who are just far too constrained in their own tidy simple-minded constructs. There is always that arrogant premise that, “Everyone thinks just like perfect me and wants the same things that I do, and, if they don’t, they damned well better.” And most of those constructs were crafted by the Greatest Generation for a completely different world. To Russians, the most important aspect of the Soviet Union was not the fact that they were a super-power, but that the “frontier” was adequately defended from invasion, and a line of buffer states ensured ample time to respond to an attack from the West, that Mother Russia was protected. Once those buffer states evaporated, the Russians felt naked and vulnerable. And, worse, they were no longer a super-power. Russia was rudderless, thrashing about, falling apart, ransacked, and it was a perfect situation for all sorts of self-doubt and suspicion, and fear for the Motherland – which the West was incessantly aggravating.
Now all that Russia can do is move in a few critical places before those last chances are gone, too. Their behavior under Putin has always been 100% predictable – to anyone who had a half-decent grasp, understanding, of “Mother Russia”. You have to look at Russia without the Politburo and the apparatchiks and see what both had been trying to control and harness – after they had removed both the nobility and the church. After the fall of communism, the church was quickly resurgent, but there was still that problem of very strong national leadership that has been integral to Russia for over a thousand years. The US missed the Golden Opportunity of the Century during the 1990s – by not seizing the moment to craft a mutually beneficial military alliance with these people, and walk hand-in-hand with them into a whole new century. The militaries of both countries were eager, but the politician were not.
The least developed talent among Americans is an ability to view the board from the other’s side. It’s ALL according to “very special ME”. Americans love to wave the flag and talk about patriotism and exceptionalism, but, compared to the Russian people, they have no real comprehension of such things. But such things about Russia should never be under-estimated in the West: The more we box Russia in, the more they will push back, and by pushing back, the more ultra-nationalist they will become. When the Russians speak of “we”, they really do mean “we” – all of us – and not just a few expendable widgets used to do all the hard stuff for “very special me”. They don’t need an overarching ideology like Nazism or Communism; all they need is a perceived and growing threat to the Motherland, and such threats can come from the liberal West just as easily as they can come from the ultra-right of Islamic militant extremism. Putin has accomplished his most important objective: the free-fall in the Russian birthrate has stopped. Now he needs to reverse it and send it up. The ignorant West is sure to help, just as it helps so well to elevate Putin’s domestic popularity.
(Stavridis does under-estimate the improvements over the past 15 years in key Russian military elements, which are rapidly moving into parity with comparable elements of the US military. The Russians want to replace most of their conscript military with well-paid, well trained and well-equipped career professionals, just like the Regular US military – of which Admiral Stavridis is an excellent example.)
The “Cold” Russian. The Russian writer Iosif Sternin recently published an article intended for westerners. It was titled “Why we rarely crack a smile“. In summary:
Russians are a famously unsmiling people. When compared with Westerners and even people from many Asian cultures, Russians can at first appear morose or even cold. That’s because we don’t use smiles to communicate the same sentiments other people do. Westerners smile to indicate politeness and friendliness toward someone they’ve just met. That particular smile is called a “duty smile” in Russia, and it “is considered a bad feature of a person, indicating his insincerity, secretiveness, and unwillingness to reveal his true emotions.” Russians never smile at strangers—which is why our sales assistants can seem rude to foreign customers—and if a stranger smiles at us, we assume he is mocking us for something, perhaps a stain on our clothes or an unfashionable haircut. To break out in a smile, a Russian needs a reason that is not merely internal but also obvious to everyone, so he can be seen as “having the right to smile.” This follows the proverb “A laugh without reason is a sign of stupidity.” That’s not to say Russians are unhappy. We’re a cheerful folk; we just don’t wear our emotions on our faces. “The true Russian smile” is a rare sight—but when you do see it, you can rest assured “it is sincere.”
This aspect of Russian culture was once also characteristic of Finnish culture, but citizens of that country in recent times have become increasingly “American” in their approach to meeting strangers. Essentially, the smile is intended to set the other person at ease, to start things off on a positive stance. But, as Americans know so well, the person with that disarming smile could just as easily be your next best friend forever as a mugger who will leave you for dead. So maybe there’s something to having an actually valid, and honest, reason to smile at first sight.
Footnote #3. “NATO” Expansion. After the Wall around Berlin ceased being an East-West barrier on 9 November 1989, the reunification of Germany was very quickly accomplished. Less than a year later, on 3 October 1990, the two parts of Germany were one. But there remained the matter of military occupation forces. Just prior to reunification, in September 1990, a treaty – the “Two Plus Four Treaty” – had been signed in Moscow among the two German countries and the four occupation powers (US, Russia, Britain and France) which scheduled the withdrawal by 31 December 1994 of all foreign military forces. The withdrawal of the last Russian forces was completed with a ceremony on 31 August 1994. Although most of the British, American, and French forces had left Germany even before the departure of the Russians, the ceremony marking the withdrawal of the remaining forces of the Western Allies took place on 8 September 1994 – three months before the deadline. (Those forces did not include minor US forces specifically addressed by other bilateral treaties, such as the military hospital and adjacent air base.)
The prospect of a united Germany was definitely not warmly greeted in western Europe, a fact that quickly required the US to take sides. The Americans had to overcome considerable British and French opposition to many of the other consequences arising from the reunification process, including a more powerful Germany, so it’s extremely unlikely that the subject of further “NATO” expansion did not come up. Both the British and French were rather strongly opposed to a reunited Germany, and even sought to enlist Gorbachev in their efforts to thwart it. Nevertheless, in December 1989, the US threw its support behind both Germany’s reunification and continued membership in “NATO”, and made a united Germany’s continued NATO membership a requirement for supporting reunification. The German Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed, even though less than 20% of West Germans supported remaining within NATO. Kohl also wished to avoid a neutral Germany, which he believed would destroy NATO, enable the United States (and Canada) to leave Europe, and cause Britain and France to form an alliance specifically to counter Germany.
The Russians under Gorbachev also sided with the Americans on both German reunification and German “NATO” membership, but immediately raised the matter of “NATO” expansion. The Russians agreed that a united Germany would be treated as an ordinary NATO country, but in return they insisted that former East German territory would not have foreign NATO troops or nuclear weapons. The Americans concurred in not expanding “NATO” operational boundaries into the former East Germany. So “NATO” expansion WAS addressed at the beginning.
It’s been subsequently argued, however, that the subject of “NATO” expansion did not come up during the Germany reunification process because Warsaw Pact forces were still stationed in countries east of Germany. But this seems to be a US bureaucratic dodge presented to cover either incompetence or ulterior objectives, including bowing to the Brits and French. East Germany and Poland withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in 1990. On 25 February 1991, the Pact was declared at an end at a meeting in Hungary of defense and foreign ministers from the five remaining member states. The USSR itself was dissolved in December 1991. The former Soviet bloc countries were struggling to set up their own democratic governments and defense mechanisms, while also struggling with how to deal with 25,000,000 ethnic Russians who suddenly found themselves unwelcome immigrants in foreign countries. For the three full years between December 1991 and December 1994 an obvious strategic vacuum existed in eastern Europe – in the former “buffer states”; it is ludicrous to suggest that the vacuum was not discussed at length both in Washington and in “NATO”, two of those three years under the Bush Administration. The Clinton Administration began in January 1993 with the first Baby Boomer President.
According to a number of key players, while all this was underway (1990-94), there was an agreement, an understanding, in place among the US, NATO and Russia that the borders of NATO would not be expanded further eastward than the united Germany. Among those holding this view are President Vladimir Putin of Russia. And he is not alone in that view. NATO Secretary General (1988-94) (Manfred Hermann) Woerner, a highly respected German politician and diplomat who served in NATO until his death in August 1994 had made a speech in 1990 in Bremen which alluded to this agreement. The giant US Ambassador Vernon Walters made similar comments. To plan otherwise would have been, of course, entirely counter-productive, as has proven out. Publicly raising the prospect of immediately pushing a powerful military alliance right up to the Russian border at a time when the Soviet Union was crumbling would have set off even greater panic in Russia, very possibly setting off uncontrollable military events.
Unfortunately it was a verbal agreement, and Gorbachev erred in trusting western leaders and not formalizing it in writing. The Clinton Administration eventually ignored the agreement and went with the emotion of bringing former Soviet republics into “the western fold” while the hated memory of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was still fresh in the popular mind, oblivious to far broader future considerations. As strategically stupid as this was, it did have broad political and emotional appeal, and, of course, the Americans failed to see that they were once again following the very familiar practice of the very long past and obediently bowing to adept British manipulation. In 1999 Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic – all three countries east of the German border – joined the organization amid much debate within “NATO” and strong Russian opposition. Gorbachev (86) is still alive and has spoken out strongly against Putin’s domestic policies, but also against the “NATO” expansion and in support of Russia seizing Crimea. Gorbachev thus confirms Putin’s understanding of the “agreement” not to push “NATO” up to the Russian border. Since Kohl, Walters, French President Mitterand and British Prime Minister Thatcher are all deceased, the only other players who would know for sure are former British Prime Minister Sir John Major, former President George H.W. Bush, and former Secretary of State James Baker. But then, in Washington you never really know whether critical decisions are being made by politicians or bureaucrats.
The strategically proper thing to do in 1990-94 was to retire “NATO” with honors for having accomplished its mission, and immediately to forge a new alliance specifically designed to address the dramatically changed European landscape and the challenges which lay ahead in the 21st century. Such a new alliance would have included Russia as a core participant on an equal footing with the US, Britain and France, and with requirements for equitable contributions from each member based on 1990 economic realities. But this would have been the responsibly adult thing to do – something which has never characterized the Baby Boomers. And once Czech-born, London-raised and Russian-hating Madeleine Albright became Secretary of State in 1997, “NATO” expansion became a foregone conclusion. The matter was not mitigated when the subsequent Bush Administration selected an academic history expert on Soviet Russia, Condoleezza Rice, as National Security Advisor. Both of these women appointees used what they knew about the past, rather than being able to use Real World experience to shape a better future. Small “special” people who had risked nothing managed to take the peaceful victory finally secured in the very long and constantly terrifying “Cold” War and squander it away. It’s a lot easier to use the father’s solutions for his world than it is for marginal children to craft brilliant new solutions for their own world.
Footnote #4. What Do The People Involved Think? Pew Research Center in April-May 2015 conducted a study mainly through 11,116 random interviews in 10 nations: Germany, France, Italy, Britain, Spain, Norway and Poland.
United States and Canada.
Among the major findings:
(1) At least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a “NATO” ally if attacked by Russia (slightly lower numbers of the British, Polish and Spanish agreed), and (2) if the next military conflict in the region is “hybrid” (unconventional) warfare, and there is some debate who these Russian-speaking fighters are, such attitudes will only further inhibit “NATO’s” response.
(This, of course, is a principle objective of unconventional warfare – which Russia plays MUCH better than those dumb civilians in the West who think it’s all about “bombing ‘em to oblivion” by “antiseptic” remote control, and despite the new labels Western political animals like to dream up, it is NOT anything new. But when you run a “military” alliance with politicians who gained all their “military” knowledge from old textbooks about the conventional World War II in Europe, 70 years ago, what does anyone expect? The sole purpose of those ignorant politicians is to get the stupid Americans to keep carrying their defense load. According to the study, residents of most NATO countries still believe that the United States would come to their defense, so, obviously, European politicians are achieving their objectives. “Why should we bother, when we have that dumb US military working dog-on-a-leash?” Unfortunately, there is that little matter of simple logic: By definition, the ONLY way to realistically challenge a single conventional military super-power is unconventionally. And no ever explains why it’s necessary for the US to come running to the rescue of a Europe that has both a population and an economy larger than the US; anyone with a functioning brain would ask why the Europeans can’t defend themselves.)
Most interesting are the attitudes of Germans as divined by Pew, since Germany is now the lynchpin of Europe. Only 38% of Germans said that Russia was a danger to neighboring countries aside from Ukraine, and only 29% blamed Russia for the violence in Ukraine. (Germany has the only leader who actually understands Russians and Russia, and the German “trust factor” in Merkel is over 90%. While Merkel was studying Russian, Putin was studying German; they speak with each other quite frequently via telephone, even knowing that NSA is listening.) Consequently, 58% of Germans do not believe that their country should use force to defend another NATO ally. Just 19% of Germans say NATO weapons should be sent to the Ukrainian government to help it better contend with Russian and separatist attacks. (The Ukrainian government has all the weapons it needs; the problem is that they are just totally incompetent and want the US Marines and US taxpayers to come in and solve all their problems for them.) German popular support for the NATO alliance in Germany is now at 55%, down from 73% in 2009.
Now, how about those on the other side of the Atlantic? In the United States, the study notes, support for NATO remains fairly strong. Americans and Canadians, it says, were the only nationalities surveyed in which more than half of those polled believed that their country should take military action if Russia attacked a NATO ally.
(What Pew did not state is the gross differences between the military forces of these two sides – the differences in the people who will actually have to do the hard stuff. The essential difference between Western Europe and North America is that European universal male-only Draft – which also makes a farce of all such polls. Europeans depend on a draft to man forces that are the equivalent of our individual state National Guard forces, while Americans and Canadians hire volunteers to do the hard stuff for them mostly in a standing professional military force. Such polls always include those who have zero skin in the game, like “special” women and blustery girlymen, but who use the sacrifices of others to pump up their phony “self-esteem”. If the US and Canada still depended on a male-only Draft, poll results would be quite similar (or worse) to those for the Europeans – and also distorted by that half of the population (women) who are not subject to the Draft. The ONLY actually relevant question for Americans is: “What is the real immediate threat to the United States?” But such a question would reduce the reflex predilection to use the US military to run all over the globe playing World Cop to advance someone’s “human rights”, mainly to make American sideline-sitters feel better about themselves for doing nothing.)
The findings on Russians’ attitudes are also likely to be quite disappointing for “NATO” supporters. Western officials have calculated that their economic sanctions will eventually erode Russian support for Mr. Putin’s decision to intervene in eastern Ukraine, force him to back out and hand a “win” to the Western politicians. But this is a myopic Western construct – which typically fails to demonstrate a realistic understanding of the other side. Mr. Putin has remained extremely popular by riding a wave of highly predictable nationalism. Most Russians are unhappy with the state of their economy, but they tend to blame not Mr. Putin but the drop in oil prices and the West’s efforts to punish Russia. Eighty-eight percent of Russians said they had confidence in Mr. Putin to do the right thing on international affairs, the highest rating since Pew started taking polls on the question in 2003, long before Russia reclaimed Crimea. “The Ukrainian situation continues to be very good for Vladimir Putin with his own people,” Pew researchers say. “The Russians feel the pain of the economy, but they blame it on the West, not on Putin.” And the more pain they feel, the more popular grows their President – which, of course, makes Vladimir Putin’s best possible partners the ignorant and incompetent politicians in Washington and Brussels and all those blustery boobs and talking heads who spout their simplistic macho nonsense from the sidelines.
Footnote #5. Sergeant Donnelly’s Requiem
I arrived a little early and had some time before my scheduled meeting with the general. So I walked down the hall and stepped out on the veranda overlooking the parade field at the back of the building for a smoke. It was a pleasant day with a bright sun and a slight breeze. Off to my left near the middle of the field a couple of buck sergeants were trying to line up a group of about 120 recruits in a formation while shouting various commands and insults. When the formation looked reasonable tidy, everything suddenly went silent. The men stood in formation facing away from me waiting for the next item on their agenda. The breeze carried the faint shouts of a drill sergeant all the way from the other side of the field about a half mile away. I recalled my own similar experiences a lifetime ago, the rare moments of deafening silence between the constant riots of hectic chaos.
After a few minutes, the front door of a smaller building off to the right opened and a single soldier stepped out wearing his class A uniform. He was a big man, trim and solid, and he strode down the few steps and over to the formation with a confident pace that only an experienced soldier does with ease. The shine of his shoes sparkled in the sun. Even at that distance I could see that the man was a master sergeant with a full rack of combat bars on his right sleeve. I could also make out the infantry and airborne badges and the Ranger tab on his upper sleeve. As he neared the formation, one of the buck sergeants shouted, “Ten-hut!” He stopped at the front of the formation, clasped his hands behind his back, and stood facing the men as his gaze roamed slowly over the young faces. For several minutes he said nothing.
And then with little effort in a powerful voice he spoke with the measured clarity of a man who had learned to make certain that his every word is clearly heard and understood. His voice carried on the breeze from well over fifty yards away as though he were standing at only ten paces from me.
“I am Master Sergeant Shaun Donnelly. As you can see from all the pretty little lights on my tree, I’ve been around the block a time or two. I am a professional airborne infantry Ranger. They brought me in because they think I might be able to teach you guys a thing or two before they let you loose on the whole Army. You will address me as First Sergeant Donnelly.”
He paused, and again the air filled with silence. I sensed that he was looking over the heads at the men trying to focus on me there on the veranda leaning against a pillar. I realized that I was the only other man in sight. I took another pull on the cigarette. I considered smoking my one vice, my quiet act of rebellion in the face of all the mandated bullshit. A man like Donnelly would see it, too, the subtle sign of a kindred spirit. What kind of moron thinks it’s fine to send a man to war but not to let him smoke a cigarette? He looked down to the ground, turned and began walking slowly parallel to the front line of men. After a few paces, he stopped in front of one of the men, and asked, “What’s you name, recruit?”
The startled man said something that I couldn’t quite make out.
“Louder, recruit. The men in the back want to hear, too. What’s your name, recruit?”
“Don’t call me sir. I am a First Sergeant. Why are you here, Mr. Scott?”
“I’m here to start training, First Sergeant!”
“But why, Mr. Scott?”
“For basic Army infantry, First Sergeant!”
“But why are YOU here? What is your purpose? Why did you come to the Army?”
“To serve and defend my country, First Sergeant!”
“Ah, to defend your country. The grand purpose.”
Donnelly looked at the man for a moment before turning and walking further along the front line of men. He stopped and addressed a man in the second row.
“What’s your name, recruit?”
“Wolinsky, First Sergeant!”
“Why are you here, Mr. Wolinski?”
“To defend the country, First Sergeant!”
Donnelly looked at the man for a moment before turning and walking further along the front line of men. He stopped, repeated the process with a third man, and, after getting the same response, retraced his steps back to the center of the formation and continued walking in front to the other side. Once more he stopped and went through the same process and received the same answer. From my vantage, it seemed to me that he had selected two white guys, a Black and a Hispanic.
Donnelly went back to the center position and faced the men. “All of you guys are volunteers. You all have met or exceeded the minimum requirements to get here. That alone places you well above the average of your American contemporaries. When you passed through the post gates, you announced your adulthood. Here you will be treated as men. Here you will be expected to think and act like men. The Army is not a place for children, for dreamers, for fools. This is not a video game or a Hollywood movie. This is the Real World. And the first thing you will learn in the Real World is to … (he paused) forget the bullshit!”
Donnelly paused again and studied the faces of several of the men standing before him.
“Your job is NOT to defend the nation!”
“That nonsense is political propaganda for dummies. Forget it! It will get you killed!”
Donnelly paused again. This man obviously had learned how to take command, to speak clearly at a measured pace that allowed time for each thought to sink in, to keep everyone focused on him and what he was saying. He gave them ample time to contemplate it all. Changing his position in front of the men every couple of minutes, he spoke only while stationary and only while directly facing the men, making sure that his gaze fell on the eyes of individual men in the formation as he spoke. His hands remained clasped behind his back. His voice was loud, masculine, resonant, but never a shout, never a noticeable effort.
“Your job is NOT to defend the nation!” he repeated. (Pause.) “Your job is to bestow “strength” on inherently weak and ignorant politicians. (Pause.) Your job is to fix colossal messes created by incompetent diplomats. (Pause.) Your job is to stoically tolerate all those delusional bureaucrats convinced that you are even more stupid than they are. (Pause.) Your job is to allow all those bloviating talking heads on TV to safely play General Patton with the lives of others. (Pause.) Your job is to make all those fat pointy-headed morons screaming at their living room televisions feel better about themselves for getting someone else to do the hard stuff necessary to provide their self-worth. (Pause.) Your job is to provide cover for hundreds of companies to pay their people six times what we pay you, for doing stuff you could do better.”
The air filled again with silence as Donnelly changed to another position five paces from the last.
“None of these people have any idea what they’re doing, have never in their lives risked anything, have never even been held accountable for their own decisions. (Pause.) They all just pretend to demonstrate “leadership’ from the very safe rear while expecting you to figure it out on the fly at the front. (Pause.) These jerks like to imagine themselves as born-privileged aristocrats “entitled” to send wave after wave of their brainless “troops” straight into machine gun fire. (Pause.)
“Some of those pompous asses will even bestow glorious bravery on themselves for sending YOU to die from the comfort of their offices! (Long pause.) And just what will be the consequences to them of your death? Zero! Brave, indeed. Most of those brave jerks would pee their pants if a firecracker went off out in the yard. (Pause.) If you succeed, everyone else will jump on stage all puffed up to take full credit. If you fail, they will all blame stupid loser you. (Pause.) The whiny American Baby Boomers began life forcing their nation to run away from Vietnam; forty years later in Iraq they are still forcing their nation to run away from the tough stuff they started. (Pause.) Dead and maimed soldiers are just collateral damage in their narcissistic pursuit of petty domestic popularity contests.”
More silence as Donnelly changed to another position five paces from the last.
“And, get this: NONE of it has anything at all to do with defending the nation! The nation hasn’t needed defending since 1989 – 25 years ago – before most of you were even born – when the last credible military threat folded. Any actual defending of the nation that’s left is done by blue-suit bureaucrats pushing buttons in very safe and comfy offices. (Pause.) Now it’s ALL about playing World Cop. It’s all about trying to re-arrange the world according to the self-anointed “special people”. (Pause.) Presidents now act like 17th century kings and queens who send our military forces out to attack sovereign countries on the flimsiest of made-up excuses without even bothering to check with Congress or the American people. (Pause.) For the past quarter of a century there’s been no durable logic or lasting strategy to ANY of it. There’s no consideration to what comes next, to the unintended consequences, to where it’s all supposed to lead. There’s no thinking beyond next week, the next election. (Pause.) It’s all knee-jerk reaction to girly emotion in herds stampeding in social media. It’s about buying votes by sending you out to fix messes created by stupid others. (Pause.) It’s a way for shadowy companies to make mountains of taxpayer money ineptly doing stuff our government should not be doing! (Pause.) It’s about making the world ten times more difficult for your children ….. simply because “we” can.” (Pause.)
“THIS is what they expect you to risk your life for!”
Donnelly changed to another position.
“When they call on you, the first thing you will know is that, once again, incompetent civilians in your government have failed at their jobs and they are now going to use you to cover and fix the consequences of their incompetence. (Pause.) No one will ever explain just why certain things that pop up somewhere in the world are of any real concern to the security of Americans. No one will ever examine the underlying premises pushing and pulling you in a half-dozen different directions at once. (Pause.) Because of our society’s infatuation with nifty machines, they will always send you in with only a fraction of the number of ground soldiers needed to do the job properly, and expect you to do five jobs at once. (Pause.) It’s all about soldiers being committed to deadly wars of zero consequences to the security of the nation only to have stupid politicians interfere at mid-stream and then pull the rug out from under you at the five yard line. (Pause.) It’s all about many millions of self-involved Americans eventually getting bored with what you’re doing, or wanting to spend the money instead on themselves, and simply telling the parents and wives and children of your dead and maimed buddies, “Never mind.”
Donnelly again slowly changed positions.
“You, recruits, are the expendable widgets that make everyone else feel better about themselves for sitting on their asses. (Pause.) Your purpose is to vicariously pump up the self-importance of lesser others. These are the people who never stop using the royal “we” – when what they really mean is someone else – YOU – “paid to die” in their name. The days when “we” actually meant “us” – all of us – are long gone. (Pause.) And the worst part of it all is that most of it is driven by girly voters who have no reservations at all about sacrificing the few real men left for their emotional cause of the moment. (Pause.) The most important factor in deciding what you will be asked to do will be stupid self-serving domestic politics that rarely rises above the childish. (Pause.) And the icing on the cake is that only you can be held accountable for your actions; all of the others give themselves a free pass on anything even remotely resembling accountability.”
Master Sergeant Donnelly changed to another position.
“In sum, recruits, your grand purpose here is to provide vicarious self-esteem to members of a nation in irreversible decline – for as long as that remains possible.” (Pause.) That’s the bare naked truth. (Pause.) Real men do not hide in self-serving fantasy. (Pause.) Our countrymen, the royal “we”, truly love to start things. They just don’t like to make a full investment in them or see them through to a proper conclusion that makes it all worthwhile. And that makes you their road kill! (Pause.) Your nation doesn’t give a damn about you! (Pause.) The only things that will ever have your back are me and the two guys on either side of you. Beyond that, you are of zero consequence. (Pause.) Beyond that, you are expendable rubbish! Signifying nothing!
“Now, if you still want to stay, I’ll teach you what you need to know. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, the hardest thing you will ever do. (Pause.) I don’t want any man here under false pretenses. I don’t want any flighty morons who think it’s all about god and country. I don’t want any mushy girly guys who don’t know who or what they are. I only want men who have both feet firmly planted on the ground in the real world – the twisted real world of today we all must occupy.” (Pause.)
“If you still want to stay, I will turn you into American soldiers. (Pause.) I will make you understand WHY you must measure up and follow the rules. (Pause.) I will help you earn something you can’t get anywhere else – genuine pride in being an American man.” (Pause.)
“The hardest thing to find in the effeminate West is a man.”
Donnelly walked back to the center of the formation.
“Your country has 320,000,000 citizens, and only one-half of one percent of them has any credible military experience at all. And only ten percent of that incredibly tiny number has any ground soldier experience. And yet they ALL think they know more about the job than I do after 26 years in the mud and blood. (Pause.) They don’t! (Pause.) I will teach you how to fight wars with a good chance of coming out alive. (Pause.) And maybe even in one piece. (Pause.) But winning those wars is now in the hands of ignorant politicians all pumped up on thin air chasing flighty girly votes during a news cycle. (Pause.) Your toughest task after you’ve waded past all the bullshit out there will be hiding your disgust of all those Americans who consider themselves better than you.” (Pause.)
“Think it over, recruits. Welcome to the Real World. (Pause.) If you decide to change your mind, I’ll be in my office until eight tonight to show you the paper way out. No hard feelings. (Pause.) If you stick with me to the end, YOU will become the “we” everyone talks about. If you decide to stay, know that your hell to earn that honor begins at 5 AM tomorrow. And it doesn’t have anything at all to do with guns.” (Pause.)
“And know this, recruits: For MY men, there are NO excuses! There is no phony vicarious girly “machismo” here. If you are up to the challenge, I will teach you how to survive, and, in so doing, to rise above the suffocating bullshit.” (Pause.)
“Sergeants, take over.”
And with that, First Sergeant Donnelly strode back to his building and disappeared through the door. Those on the field watched his departure in silence. I went back in for my meeting with the general wondering how many of the recruits would opt out. I knew that those who stayed would make damned good American ground soldiers.
Sergeant Donnelly had carried his share of dead and maimed soldiers off the battlefield in wars ineptly directed to accomplished nothing. I could almost hear them all salute the man.
“We met upon the Level… an’ we parted on the Square.” – Rudyard Kipling