War and Peace
7 June 2023
How the War Must End
Foreign Affairs has an article, "An Unwinnable War," dated June 5, 2023, by Samuel Charap, who is about 43 years old, a Senior Political Scientist at RAND Corporation, and during the Obama administration was on the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State. He has the BA from Amherst College and the MA and PhD in Russian and East European Studies from Oxford University. In short, this article is likely to be read widely. It was published before the dam on the Dnipro River (Dnieper) was blown up, flooding downstream with 18 cubic kilometers of very valuable water for agriculture, human beings, and nuclear power stations.
Russia probably did it, expecting that Ukraine planned to cross the river to cut Russia off from Crimea, (except at the indefensible Straits of Kerch, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov). River crossings are notoriously difficult—either direction—and even more so in the muddy wake of the flood. President Zelenskiy is reported to have said "not us." This anti-civilian war crime better fits with the Russians, most agree.
Here is Dr.Charap's map from his article, just to refresh memory:
(Please note that on Charap's map the word Kherson obliterates the coastline from the neck of Crimea to Kherson city.)
We will probably not know exactly what Ukraine's Spring Offensive plans were, but as the previous essay, "Feast," below, indicates, the eastern front line of contact is about what Charap's map shows. The southern front line is the Dnepro River up toward Zaporizhzhia, but about 75 miles west of that city, where the river turns due north, the line extends ENExE into the Donbas.
Dr. Charap believes that wars that have gone on as long as this one—nearly a year and a half, so far—generally go on for years gathering incidents and personnel that make the outcome portents lean one way then the other, only to devolve into Hatfields and McCoys stand-offs with occasional thrusts and parries and hatreds and serious fatalities. I tend to disagree with him on this important point because wars are unique. They are governed by economics and stamina, resolve, and the uniquenesses of the parties involved. They are not conditioned principally on how long they take. They are not always going to grind down to a messy stalemate or one side suddenly defeating the other soundly. It depends on the participants, which in this case is economically fragile Russia against the Ukraine, but Ukraine uniquely supplied by all of NATO both sides of the Atlantic!
Charap talks himself and us into the idea that we need to begin talks among the parties, but admits that a settlement is "out of the question, the most plausible ending is an armistice agreement." This would leave Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, a bitter pill indeed for Zelenskiy, and not very much like the Korean ceasefire, concluded after thirty-seven months of fighting, during which there were hundreds of dogfights between Russian MIG-15s and American Saberjets, an aging and severely narcissistic Douglas McArthur, an unexpected Harry Truman with atomic weapons, the Communist Party under Mao consolidating its victory over Shang Kai-chek, which model Charap says is "the archetypal case." Case! Historically, wars are jungles of details, each with their own roots and canopies.
I agree that opening Kissingerian-type talks, known to be happening, but ultra-secret, is a possible way to begin, and I truly do believe beginning is essential. But, working with Putin and Co. is unlikely to produce (a) reparations or (b) war crimes trials or even (c) remove Russians from Ukrainian soil. In other words, more bluntly, the only way Ukraine should get into talks is with reparations, war crimes trials, and restitution of all territories on the table baseline, with Ukraine receiving more and more "intimate" support from NATO.
There was an article recently that called for NATO to immediately and fully accept Ukraine into the pact. This will inevitably cause Putin to have a cow and play to his innate paranoia. It will also chasten him, and may anger his ultra-nationalist authoritarian retinue even more. The Russian ultra-nationalists will try to use nukes. If cooler Kremlin heads have not already thought this through, the militants—still convinced that Russia is mighty and that war is the best social ladder to climb— might succeed, but were they to, Putin and the Russian nation will be the fatalities of that. So will Kiev, Vilnius, Warsaw, Berlin, and maybe Bremerton. Under no circumstances should Ukraine be persuaded to decline an invitation to join NATO as condition of beginning or talking or concluding talks!
Ukraine is now the largest nation in Europe after Russia itself. Our purpose now is to bring Russia into Europe, "domesticate" it, gentle it, figure out how to deal with trans-Ural Russia and trans-Baikal Asia, without tempting Xi Jinping or his successors in Beijing to become greedy. Bring President Zelenskiy into this bigger picture and pose to him and his government the question of what it will take to hang on until they could participate in talks, or Putin is removed by more a liberal faction, or any faction comes begging to NATO for a status quo ante peace.
Ukraine has been decimated. That word means "a great number or proportion of," originally conceived as every tenth person or tank or howitzer being destroyed and gone. The Ukrainians are clearly not down to the last man by any means, and there are millions of them abroad for family safety, many or most of whom will want to come home to Ukraine.
That consideration and all it entails should be the centerpiece of all talks. Charap is correct: Ukraine is too important to global geo-politics to leave the "endgame of this war ... nebulous." But, the problem is not goals, but strategies and tactics to achieve them. A multinational "Marshall Plan" is an obvious necessity, with Russia's future an important part of the overall plan. Planning the Rebuilding Plan should begin now. That process, in the meanwhile, will help focus The Talks.
War & Peace
3 June 2023
My best friend for a couple years at the end of high school and good friend in college, a guy with whom several of us convened in Toronto to witness him marry, this son of the USMC, and himself a USMC artillery officer in Vietnam, much more at war than I, cruising the coasts of North and South Vietnam and Cambodia, ... sadly died a while back of Covid and artillery-induced Parkinsons. His stories came back to me this Memorial Day fifty-seven years later.
Luke Mogelson is the author of "Underworld" in the May 29, 2023 issue of The New Yorker. First, we have to thank Luke for his own courage in reporting his two weeks in the eastern part of Ukraine, as Spring slowly then suddenly arrived and as both sides prepared for the enemy's new offensives. "Underworld" is sometimes sufficiently graphic and brought a lump to my throat several times. For those of you who wonder why we do not get more news about the war in Ukraine, Mogelson explains why between the lines. You should read this piece for another set of reasons, too.
Mogelson's Ukrainian infantry hated the Russian artillery. They called these Russian shellings "feasts," (zastillya—"[clearing/cleaning] from the shelves") to herald the raining down of Russian artillery shells from some unknown distance onto their backs and brows. Ukraine infantry were operating in Donetsk Oblast (Donbas Region), dug-in well to the east in an agricultural district and village called Kostiantynivska, about fifteen clicks west-southwest of bloody Bakhmut. War re-engineers language to disguise terror.
Ukraine is war-weary while flabby MAGA mouths are waging a different war. Their politics is so profoundly despicable in the shadows and loom of "Underworld" that it almost defies description. War is very ugly, but even the grizzly parts revealed by Mogelson are less disgusting than the quisling rhetoric from the mutinous MAGA. Yet—while we are still rational—Ukraine is badly battered and the perspective given in this remarkable article is that Ukraine infantrymen seem a long way from Kyiv and all the weapons they need. Perhaps, though, it is necessary to remember and realize that without those weapons, the Ukrainian infantry would surely have been destroyed months ago. And, one surmises from other sources that the Russians have already faced annihilation, and they have run, leaving the Wagner Group prison-conscripts to their fates at the front, confronting Ukraine like a desperate criminal gang.
Secretary of State Blinken remarked this week that the Russians have recently claimed to have the world's second most powerful army, but in fact it is the the second most powerful army in Ukraine. Browning-up the Chinese Army will do the Russians no good, and with Yevgeny Prigozhin blasting Putin, popping the cork on dissent in Russia, on balance, things are looking much worse across the expanse of Russia than for Ukraine—as bad as that is!
War & Peace
8 May 2023
In January 2022, The Guardian, onceu respected UK newspaper known as The Manchester Guardian, carried a story that The next US civil war is already here — we just refuse to see it". Today, on MSNBC in the wake of the Allen, TX, mass shooting the news was two days old and by this time codified in uncertain terms and, although on its way as 199th on the list of mass murders this year—today is 128th day of 2023— unlikely to be listed in the upper half of those listed by December 31st. The uncertain terms hover and wobble around the definitions of "domestic terrorism" and "civil war."
As I wrote the title to this essay I noticed that the last two words of the paragraph above are an oxymoron. We are actually in an "uncivil war," not because a war has not yet been declared, the enemy has declared it, but because—we do not want to admit it. It is, in fact the policy of the US government, so far, to not even generalize or emphasize the fact that we have a domestic terrorism problem in our country, much less scare the crap out of the economy by calling it a war. After all, we have lost the last three foreign wars and the War on Drugs domestically. It's not a good idea, politically at least, to acknowledge how bad things are.
The far right is defending the constitutional, political, social, economic, and justice regime of around 1927, or 1890, times when a 2nd class citizen knew his place in society, when the rich got richer, when Democrats were weak and did not know how to agree with or what to say about the socialists to their left. The far right is not a closed well-disciplined or "regulated" organization. It is clumps of people who are locally upstanding citizens echoing their apprehensive and economically grieving neighbors over their declining fortunes in what was supposed to be, they thought, the place where an honest White man and his family could prosper ... because that was how the system was set up.
But there are other clumps of people, Americans, who believe that the system is so far bent toward the people who are not White, not-Christian, not to be trusted with political power, that it is irrecoverable, and moreover, that sharing a democracy with these people is political suicide. Accordingly, this means that the only way for them is to abjure representative republican democracy in favor of fascistic-Christian-hegemonic oligarchy, but in the meantime a dictatorship of those with guns. And, the order to the gun-toting parts of the Base, now, is act individually and locally. The call went out after the Insurrection of January 6th and was enunciated again as the insurrectionists were being tried and convicted. That's what Allen and Uvalde, Texas, are about!
It may sound like incredible suicidal nonsense to you. Why would men go out to a church, temple, dance hall, super-market, or school just to kill a dozen or so people, preferably those who would be sorely mourned, knowing that it would be death-by-cop with 95% certainty? Most of those hundreds (even thousands) who would do this (in a population of 330,000,000) are mentally ill, challenged, or socio-economically challenged past the point of despair. Their rude calculus is that when the more familiar sort of civil war comes, their chances of getting killed are very high anyway. They do it because they have the weapons with which to do it, and they have the motive. The motive is to let the world know that America is collapsing under the weight of its own horrid corruption and evils.
President Biden can no more declare war on Governor Abbott or Governor DeSantis than the man in the moon. He cannot use any vocabulary other than one which disguises the fact that foreign countries have already issued guarded travel-advisories to their citizens about travel in the US. He can only hope that the 2024 General/Presidential Election will give Democrats overwhelming majorities locally, state-by-state, and nationally. It is a pipe-dream, perhaps. I, on the other hand, am hopeful and mildly optimistic, if only because I think the MAGA Republicans have overplayed their hand ... believing Trump and his Base to be vanguard of the future, without which, of course, they would be soon outvoted anyway.
I think Frank Figliuzzi is right, until we have federal laws that permit Justice and police forces to intercept the un-civil warriors, the domestic terrorists have the upper hand. I think President Biden should begin slowly but surely to open up the vocabulary to give the nation an honest glimpse into how bad things are right now!
War & Peace
16 March 2023
I know I am not the only person to be scandalized by the Florida Governor's recent assertion that the United States has no legitimate interest in Putin's aggression into Ukraine, which the Governor said was a "territorial dispute." This current phase of the antagonism between Putin and the Ukraine is over a year long now. This phase of the Florida Governor's unofficial campaign for the Republican nomination for President in 2024 is also a "territorial dispute" between the Governor and the former, twice-impeached and disgraced President. The territory is the far right wing of their political partythe loudest and most intimidating faction, the faction most likely to come out in strength for the primaries early in 2024.
The problem with both men being "against" US supporting Ukraine is that the whole world can hear, if not actually see, what is going on here. It easily reminds me of the epoch during which I served in the US Navy, eventually ending up in the combat zone, but then coming home to an America RIVEN by those self-righteous su sporters of the domino-theory of the Vietnam War as against the young and the better informed who were convinced a) that the war was not a matter of toppling dominos, and b) that the war was being prosecuted so ineptly, supported by lies fed to the media, that our national interest was clear to get the eff out of the war as soon as possible.
Of course the difference between then and now is that Then the most active and vocal anti-participation people were young draft-age men and voices from other scenes of national embarrassment, such as persistent racial discrimation against non-white, non-Christians. Whereas, Now the most vocal of the anti-participation people are "notables" with strong support from "bases" of disaffected domestic Christian White class and caste grieving people, who want their former share of the social and political power back, supported by growing fascist movements, centered on gun ownership as an insurance policy against an "overweening" central government. So the difference creates a different ring in one's ears in Europe, especially Kiev and Moscow, where listening to the US polity is a necessity.
Clearly the Governor and the twice-impeached and disgraced ex-President have damaged the national security of our nation and of Ukraine just by talking. What is less well understood is that they make it less and less likely that the Russian "elites" and business people, who are now lying low in the face of FSB terrorism and shoving dissenters out of upper-floor hotel windows all across Russia, ... that these people will ever grow a pair and do what clearly must be done ... cooperate among themselves and with Putin's enemies in the government to get rid of him. As writers at Carnegie Institute have said already, these people are famously irresolute!
Needless to say, perhaps, the counter voices of the Senator from South Carolina and others will be drowned out by the focus of media on the "treasonous" yammerings of the Governor and the ex-Prez and their fascist supporters. We still are a freedom of speech country, so they are entitled to their opinions and voices, but it is time for Biden and some of the more eloquent members of the Republican and Democratic parties to convincingly repeat the reasons we are supporting Ukraine. Americans, even the media, have short attention spans for complex but exceedingly important details.
My dream last Saturday was more and more clearly a subconscious alarm going off inside me about standing up and calling it like it manifestly is. Putin's Russia is a world menace and the best way to deal with it is to punish it for its mistakes, one by one, telling the world what a feckless regime is there (again) and what must be done. NATO Europe knows, and so apparently do China and others. We in the US must treat the "treasonous" with the same consistent resolve!
War & Peace
25 February 2023
The news shows I watch have been dominated by yesterday's acknowledgement of the February 24th first anniversary of Russian President Putin's second invasion of Ukraine, a mistake, for sure, but also a war, not a "special operation" requiring nothing much of his country or its citizens. The situation is unsurprisingly complex, and the very recent televised views into the maelstrom sometimes reveal more about their point of view than of the situation.
Weeks before, I ran into a bon mot attributed to Denis Diderot, the "Encyclopedist" Philosophe of the late 18th century in France ... and around Europe generally. What I found eventually was this from History Today:
‘Well, illustrious philosophe’ (wrote Voltaire to Diderot) ‘what do you say of the Empress of Russia? What times we live in! France persecutes the philosophes, and the Scythians show them favour!’
Voltaire and Diderot used the term Scythians as a learn-ed perjorative, the facts being that these remarkable warrior horsemen were long since gone after thousands of years of occupying the great east European steppe (where Ukraine sits now), and were clearly not one people but many, collected under that name for convenience of interpreting the ancient classics when they were rediscovered, and most importantly, to harken to their fierceness, still very much respected a couple thousand years later. And, of course, they attributed that ferocity to Catherine the Great's Russians, at least the most vulgar or them, noble or otherwise. "Ferocity" is related to the word "feral," by the way.
Scythian is a good enough term, along the lines of Voltaire, for Russians, if one means that what we now call Russia was for crucial centuries divorced from the goings on in western Europe, which if you look at it westward from Moscow looks like a peninsula of western Asia. Indeed, Russians like Putin enjoy the slander as good propaganda. The Russian military, such as it has been from the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars to this day, figures Scythian ancestry is its best strategy (and tactics), given the unwieldy nature of the culture and territory it defends. Better always to terrify before brutalizing the unwary enemy!
So, there was much evidence in this past week's films and videos of Bucha, Irpin, and gutted apartment buildings everywhere to suggest Scythianism. Strangely, Ukraine is the most direct ancestor population, but as Russia gets to appropriate the swirl of ideas invested in that word, they give us reason to doubt how civilized they really are—"organized," yes, but "civilized" completely maybe not, and to be fair, maybe not even as incompletely civilized as any other European population. All of which considerations lead to the question of who are the Ukrainians? Even without the answer to that huge question, we are agreed for a time that assisting Ukrainians to preserve their sovereign nation in the face Russian neo-colonialism is of utmost importance to our own need to preserve our and their democracy, warts and all.
If you are really interested, there is a article in The New York Review of Books, the February 23, 2023 issue, "Ukraine in Our Future," by Timothy Garton Ash, that is full of very interesting views of the people and their politics and their country. Probably the most important part is the candid consideration of warts. Pots and kettles aside, Ukraine has an ancient or at least a 2nd CE millennium-long culture, but not much experience yet in self-determination, having been subsumed into the Russian Empire as a much weakened by the Mongol conquest, nevertheless the parent-culture of Appanage Rus in the upper Volga "mesopotamian" region eventually dominated by Muscovy, and by war with the remnants of the Golden Horde and the Ottoman Empire. The questions asked by Professor Ash are about how well and how honestly organized is Ukraine. As you can quickly understand the answers are going to be vague for quite a while and less in the press because “Oh no, Russian propaganda will pick that up!” "In the long term, though no one is well served by propagating a myth of the immaculate victim."
In the 14th c., 1360 for example, about halfway through the period in Russia known as the Mongol Yoke (1240-1480), the Principality of Ukraine was an organized and constituent part of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a culture that accepted Christianity in 1387, a confederacy that reached from the Baltic Sea north of Estonia clear down to the Black Sea west of Crimea, which was part of the still vital Khanate of the Golden Horde. It was the largest country in Europe for over a hundred years. But, Ukraine was, like the rest of eastern Europe a late-medieval princedom fully engaged in feudal agriculture, and not requiring much more than personal loyalty to the princes from the lords and gentry. The whole world has since grown "up" and become self-consciously sensitive to such things as race, class, caste, money, capital, elections, electrons, and weather balloons. And now we, and Henry Kissinger, know about where Ukraine is.
Being half-Lithuanian led me to all of this. I feel no cultural vibes, but I do believe I have Ukrainians in the family tree somewhere. The issue is that we are discovering that we and our next two generations are now in the position to make or break this planet. We marvel at the courage of President Zelenskiy and the people of Ukraine, and we know that marveling is not enough.
War & Peace
25 January 2023
The "Acursed Questions"
The other day in Netflix I clicked on a modern Russian drama series, "Better Than Us," I had seen before, just to remind myself of the mores the caste and director thought Russians would like to see as their future selves portrayed to the world. These may not have been very conscious decisions. The title of the series transliterated is "Luchshe, chem lyudi" ("Better than people"). It's about a future Moscow where humanoid robots of various kinds and levels are ubiquitous, but not universally accepted. Very near the beginning, one of the characters or maybe even the narrator says "Russia, this intellectual country...." For me it startled to the center of consciousness an old understanding of how Russians see themselves, a folkway I have marveled over since my undergraduate days. I remember musing to myself about the cheek, the long winter nights, the two and half centuries of the Mongol Yoke, the people I met in Leningrad, the contrasts between "such" people and their socialist economy, and probably more than anything their amazing literature in the 19th and 20th centuries.
One of the pieces of their intellectualism—however you may wish to view it or believe in it—is the phrase "the acursed questions," which are those questions Americans of all sources tend to ignore as impenetrable, such as, "what is the meaning of life" and "how should I lead my life" and "what is death and can it be avoided." Or, to put it a little more fairly, Americans' religion-selection opportunities and experience provides truly assertive answers and, at the same time, of course, a built-in reason to not dig in further. Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are preeminent examples of the tortures Russians sometimes go through to find a foothold of an answer. "Notes from Underground" is my favorite. You should know that there is (almost) no "a" or "the" in Russian, so there is an ambiguity about Dostoyevsky's "underground." It might be a subversive organization in a reader's mind until it seems like it is merely below the surface, but then later turns out to be a sociological level, a state of mind, which in terms of the acursed questions is just about where Dostoyevsky wanted to explore.
Religion in Russia is predominantly the Russian Orthodox Church, "the successor" church, cousin to the Greek Orthodox Church, Byzantine Orthodoxy, and ultimately the Roman Catholic Church. But there is also Judaism, once almost corralled in the Pale of Settlement. There are pagans of various kinds in the far north and east, and out in the boondocks Orthodoxy went into partial eclipse as highly activist sects like the Skoptsy (castrates) and Khlysty (flagellants) and Doukhobors (vegetarian, spirit worshipers) proliferated for a while. Interestingly, the "acursed questions" seem to have not been answered in any of these religions. We should not over- or under-estimate this observation. It tells us that Russians are questing for answers to questions we, most of us probably, think are too metaphysical or likely unanswerable. We should ask why Russians disgree on that point.
All of this leads eventually to our day and to another acursed question — about the war in Ukraine. Putin described the special operation as a morally necessary task of ridding their close neighbor of fascists. Clearly, Putin's rationale for the invasion of a now sovereign nation that used to be part of Mother Russia and a important component part of the USSR, and was in fact nearly a millennium earlier the source of people who inhabited and then congealed into Muscovy and then Rus and Russia, struck a number of chords on the balalaika the two cultures share. But just as clearly, it was utter and fatuous baloney. Why we humans like wars is an acursed question. In Putin's case the ready answers—a diversion from acknowledging the failures of the regime, or a event in which to earn glory—generate more basic acursed questions like why people fall for it, even entertaining death for it.
A year later, almost, we discover that "acursed questions" are contagious in the West. President Biden's intelligence services provide him (and us) with advanced intel on what Putin was probably up to. He was going to invade the helpless Ukraine again. Since 2014 the Ukrainians had not been able to get the Russians and their stooges out of Donbas and Lukhansk in the eastern reaches of their country. When on February 24th last year the invasion began nearly everyone but the Ukrainians thought the assault would be done in less than a week. President Zelenskiy thought otherwise. Soon everyone was hoping they could throw Putin's armies out of Ukaine. NATO began sending in large amounts of military supplies, but paused at the possibility of providing offensive weapons, lest the Ukraine took this as a hint or permission to invade Russia in return for the 2014 and 2022 invasions. So there you see the outline of an acursed question looming through the dust and death of a hot war.
Ukraine has not been bombed into submission, but into a fierce anger and willingness to die for the idea that Ukraine is a sovereign nation with every right in the world to exist peacefully and carry out its dreams. The acursed question is about "Offensive weapons"! In the NFL there are offensive players and defensive players and hardly any of them switch sides. Some NFL games are clearly defensive duals, but many are offensive demostrations of prowess. War though, is not a game, so NATO should drop the analogy immediately. The US Department of Defense was the War Department until I was in the fifth grade. PR people thought the word "defense" was less objectionable. Have we fallen into a vocabulary trap of our own devising? War is war!
Ukraine is really at war— defending its sovereignty, but also engaging our adversary. For us, the democratic countries in NATO, whose fortunes depend on Ukraine not losing, defense and offense mean the same thing, instantly. The borders of Ukraine are natural and artificial, and when Russians are pushed back across those red lines on maps, the event is both defensive and offensive. Ukrainians are dying for their country and for our democracies. Maybe the verbal trap is of Putin's devising!
As Zelenskiy said to the American middle-class Congress this year, our provisons are not Charity; they are an Investment. So, this week, the "acursed question" is about tanks and which country should provide them to Ukraine.
The Germans want the assurance that the United States will furnish "Abrams" tanks, then Germany will provide "Leopard" tanks. Germans are skeptical about politically riven and fractured American politics. Poland has German Leopards and has given some to Ukraine, crossing that "acursed" divide between defense and offense. The US says Abrams tanks that use jet fuel in their turbine engines are hard to maintain—thank you DoD and Congress for muffing that acursed question—so it would rather not send Ukraine these tanks. Then Germany, PM Olaf Scholz, says well, we think that stinks. It really does—in both directions. It turns out that in the West not training their brains to answer "acursed questions" leaves some of its generals and politicians incapable of understanding what is required of them.
The answer came Monday evening from legal scholar Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-Rhode Island), just back from Ukraine himself and talking with Zelenskiy. Acursed questions are rarely answered so succinctly. He said on MSNBC's "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell that the Abrams tanks should go to Ukraine immediately with no further talk or whining about it AND, if they just sit there in a tank parking lot keeping Germany's Leopard tanks company, so be it! At least America was instrumental in getting Leopard tanks out of Germany and into Ukraine. Neither Germany nor the US look very intellectual in this evolution.
Thickets of reasoning are man made. Some acursed questions have answers. When you're dead you are dead, unless you can prove otherwise. No one has in 300,000 years! Yes, Leopard tanks are battle tanks and can be used in Crimea to roust out the bleeping Russians. They are "take it to 'em" weapons of war. They are not a first step toward rolling into Red Square and demolishing the Kremlin or providing Ukraine with nuclear weapons. If Putin decides that they are reason enough to use his nuclear weapons, then here we go!
This is a war for Ukraine to win! Russia can never win unless we continue to get confused.
War and Peace
11 October 2022
Bluffs With Consequences
By now we are all familiar with the problem of nuclear warfare threats issued weekly, it seems, by President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation. The huge question, which circumscribes our own and NATO's strategy in the Ukraine War, is judging whether Putin is bluffing or not. Already pundits have suggested that in response to a tactical nuclear attack in Ukraine, NATO (probably the US, but plausibly France or the UK, the known nuclear-armed nations) might not use nukes in response, but would instead, wipe out the Russian Black Sea Fleet entirely, and destroy such other parts of the Russian military as we could. This would escalate things, since our own NATO forces would carry out response. US having already used nukes, what does Putin have left to prove? Only more nukes, the use of which will trigger a nuclear exchange that no nation wins, but Russia loses dramatically, perhaps terminally.
People like Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama, has said on MSNBC that we have to avoid a nuclear exchange policy, since all reasonable scenarios lead to a ballistic targeting of all of NATO (including the US) and all of Russia, the odds of Russia surviving being significantly less that the odds of the US, but other NATO countries could be ruined for centuries. So, Putin's bluff seems to work up to a point, but prolongs a war that is not in his interest to prolong, so he loses either way. How rational is he? How brutal? How suicidal? Clearly his best stragegy is to get out of Ukraine as fast and deftly as possible.
Meanwhile, at rallys recently, former President Trump has said the thousands of documents he stole from the White House, including very highly classified materiel, "are mine!" Pundits have noticed that these comments solidify the cases against him under several laws, beginning with the Espionage Act and then the Presidential Records Act, lying to Federal officers, and obstruction of justice. This is all in plain sight and, so, the pundits wonder if Trump is deliberately taunting the Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland. Taunting immediately suggests that there is a bluff proffered by Trump, so I will name it. It is possible that he has already communicated to DoJ that, if DoJ indicts him, he will release Top Secret Compartmentalized intelligence into "the wild," publically or otherwise. Remember, too, that he and two or three dozen of his circle will be indicted on various RICO charges for the January Sixth insurrection and fake electors crimes, which will drive a wedge right through this pack of miscreants, insuring that all are found guilty of the larger conspiracy.
The consequences of him fulfilling his bluff would be immediate arrest and a gag order—in a normal universe—followed by a swift trial not televised, also gagged, and incarceration for the rest of his miserable life—and this would possibly be the spark for a civil war. Remember, Frank Figliuzzi reported to Nicolle Wallace, as reported here, that the FBI and DoJ DO NOT have their "arms around this." They are spread thinly already. The natural consequence of that is that the Executive Branch would have to use other forces to quell the angry mobs, which have been planning their insurgency for decades. A very peace-loving President Biden would be obliged to declare a national emergency, Martial Law, which would scare the shit out of everyone but the insurgents, whose cause would be accellerated by it.
On the other hand, AG Garland has little choice but to charge Trump and convict him. The entire intelligence system of the nation hangs in the balance. Snowdens will appear out of the woodwork and our allies will recoil in stark fear of being betrayed. The western alliances will crumble and Putin will smile. His larger strategy will have paid off and the killing fields of Ukraine will tilt back into his favor and his longevity in office will be more secure.
Bluffs are natural responses to threats. Our serpentine or four-footed and feathered friends puff-up, snarl, and show their teeth and talons. Bluffs are not signs of weakness, but rather signs that the bluffer has calculated at least a draw or escape, but perhaps a win. So, the issue is the calculation, and that brings up the evaluation of the resources of the bluffer. In significant ways both Putin and Trump are all alone in their calculations, both are head-strong, above average intelligences, but not geniuses by any stretch, and both have weak and faulty external information and analysis sources. Both are over-weaning egotists and dangerously so.
It seems to me, that prudence itself says call their bluffs now! Waiting compounds the probable damage and loss of life, not to mention weakening the resolve in the democracies, but only the anxieties in Russia and Mara Lago.
Archv: War and Peace
22 May 22
The War Wary Weary NYT
The continuing thread in the national and international discussion of how best to accomplish Ukraine's war goals and NATO aid goals, (some of which, understandably, have only been hinted at), are, so far, namely:
The first two goals seem to be attainable, but Ukraine is sustaining massive death, damage, and destruction, and accordingly may find it necessary to stop short of its main goal and negotiate some sort of peace, presumably with due consideration to NATO interests (and lack thereof). Due consideration would be, at a minimum, consultation with NATO and with the US, France, and UK, these being the nuclear powers of NATO, but stating that they have had enough and that the status quo would be marginally acceptable.
This would quickly bring up the question of whether to persuade Ukraine that the other NATO goals should be pressed, which could probably mean some NATO members jumping into the war as belligerents. Whether this would be a popular idea in the nations bordering Russia, principally Finland, Estonia, Latvia, as well as Lithuania and Poland with their frontiers with Belarus and the Kaliningrad enclave held by Russia would remain to be seen and heard, given good intelligence on the status of Russian forces.
The Editorial Board of The New York Times on May 19th, 2022, published an "anxious" opinion—"The War in Ukraine Is Getting Complicated, and American Isn't Ready,"— which title to my mind suggests there are important differences of opinion at the Times, and in my opinion should have led them to not publish their revealing thoughts.
The Times is the newpaper of record for New York and the nation. When they speak people all over the world listen. The Board is worried and is addressing its remarks directly at President Biden, of course knowing that President Putin and President Zelenskiy will read it and wonder what it means to the complicated event Putin put in motion on February 24th. Three paragraphs stick out for me.
These are extraordinary costs and serious dangers, and yet there are many questions that President Biden has yet to answer for the American public with regard to the continued involvement of the United States in this conflict.
Is the United States, for example, trying to help bring an end to this conflict, through a settlement that would allow for a sovereign Ukraine and some kind of relationship between the United States and Russia? Or is the United States now trying to weaken Russia permanently? Has the administration’s goal shifted to destabilizing Vladimir Putin or having him removed? Does the United States intend to hold Mr. Putin accountable as a war criminal? Or is the goal to try to avoid a wider war — and if so, how does crowing about providing U.S. intelligence to kill Russians and sink one of their ships achieve this?
Without clarity on these questions, the White House not only risks losing Americans’ interest in supporting Ukrainians — who continue to suffer the loss of lives and livelihoods — but also jeopardizes long-term peace and security on the European continent.The Congress seems to be clearer on these questions than the Times, and has authorized many scores of billions of dollars in direct support of Ukraine. In the first cited paragraph they question the "continued involvement," as if the US was assisting independently of NATO. No, we are there because NATO is there and we are a leading member of NATO. The arrogance and stupidity of suggesting that the US would pull out is astoundingly wrong-headed.
The second cited paragraph is a presumptious list of questions that high school students might ask, but for which President Biden has signalled his personal opinion. He IS the President and Commander-in-Chief, so as ever, Presidential comments are both policy and not. What the Editorial Board seems to be forgetting is that this is not a new Vietnam predicated on dominoes falling and administration lies being told daily, it is a unique situation in which the US and NATO are not at war, not in charge, but very likely would be, if it were not for Putin's nuclear weaponry and his sabre rattling about it, and could be despite that very dangerous bluffing. In several different ways the questions posed by the Board cannot be answered because the situation is fluid, the policy of the US is whatever the policy of NATO is, our military tactics and strategy are nominally and responsibly classified, and their "crowing question" is just plain irresponsible, petulent, naive, and shameful.
The third paragraph says the Times Editorial Board ignores all the facts on the ground, the sensitivity of public statements made by US officials which they have already deplored, and might lose interest in the situation, which hardly seems like a decent bluff. No one elected the Board to represent American opinion, and certainly there is not an expert on Ukraine or Russia among them!
Yes, of course, the situation is unnerving. We (and They) know we must prosecute the removal of Russia from Ukraine until it is accomplished. It is a very bad omen that The Times stands aside, wetting its pants, while thousands are dying because all of us do not want to have a h-bomb dropped on Times Square.
(War & Peace)
16 May 22
We now know that the war in Ukraine will be with us for a while more, maybe years, likely less than that. The war will drag on, and the armies invading will begin to act, as they already have, like most armies sent into poorly defined circumstances for even more poorly defined reasons. There will be atrocities as young men and their officers—all the way up—will vent their exasperations on handy targets. This kind of situation is deplorable, of course, but very few nations set out to achieve these circumstances, nor do they easily recognize when they exist and, worse yet, what to do about it. Putin and Russia may be the exception.
One thing nations have "done about it" is to create the ICC, the International Criminal Court, at the Hague in Belgium, created by the Rome Statute, but although in 1998 President Clinton signed the Rome Statute, but facing a Republican Senate and scandal—in December impeachment— he did not submit the treaty to the US Senate for ratification, and moreover, in 2002 as the US was reeling from the 9/11 attacks and entered Afghanistan and soon Iraq, resident George W. Bush sent a note to the Court saying the the US was no longer considering ratification of the treaty and therefore the US has no obligations to or under the Court. So for those twenty years the US disregards the ICC in all matters: war and civilian crime.
Fintan O'Toole in his review article in the May 26, 2022 edition of the New York Review of Books "Our Hypocrisy on War Crimes" tells us the story of why the US could be avoiding the jurisdiction of this first permanent international criminal court. He calls it hypocrisy. I am not so sure.
O'Toole's piece is not blood-pressure neutral. He is not wrong to point out alleged and confirmed cases of ICC-defined war crimes by US forces, and limiting these vignettes to US troops is probably appropriate to his subject, he is, unfortunately, sort of shrill about it and accuses President Biden of "grandiloquent" rhetoric about pursuing Putin's Russia because of their war crimes in Ukraine. The one word that does not stick to Joe Biden is "grandiloquent." One wonders if Fintan was deliberately sabotaging his piece so as to say that he does not really believe in the ICC either. Probably, though, he was just fuming that the world's only superpower ought to be party to the Court, but is so flawed that it cannot afford the humiliation of subjecting itself to the rule of international law conducted by equally flawed people from tiny countries with micro economies and illiterate populations.
That's about how far we have come since the Nataruk Massacre in what is now Kenya 10,500 years ago, or any of these historical massacres, to say nothing of the Hitler's Jewish Holocaust or the My Lai madness in Vietnam not so long ago. Did you notice your scrolling finger seriously tiring on that list? The history of savagry done by armies and, lately, air forces is long and brutal. And, there is a point to be made about that fact. The expression "war crimes" is problematic, if not also ironic.
Wars are larger than crimes, always full of crimes in fact, but some think there are moments and events in war that are so intensely wrong that they should be called crimes. So as nations wage war, within wars individuals perpetrate crimes. Sometimes these individuals are soldiers on the ground, understood to have "gone crazy" with battle fatigue, perhaps, or to have vented their most evil selves against enemy soldiers or civilians, or are following "illegal" orders. Sometimes the leaders at the very top want soldiers to "go crazy" to terrify the enemy, shoot unarmed people, whether military or civilian and, to do so they make sure that their intent is completely understood down the chain of command. These cases are what President Zelenskiy and the Ukraine are dealing with now.
Interestly, refusing to carry out a "lawful" order is not a war crime, so "shooting high" happens all the time. Yes, of course, refusing can get you court martialed, in the US under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which, by the way, does not distinguish rape as a war crime, but includes it for all persons regardless of belligerent status.
There are Marquis of Queensbury rules about fist fighting, boxing. The Marquis was a brutish person, but gets "credit" for defining boxing as having unfair and dangerous bits that must be avoided. The Europeans have tried to define warfare too, but seriously, when you put an immature young man in uniform, stripping him of his special personality, and perhaps some of his moral code, and then hand him a lethal weapon, predicting the outcome is very difficult. We have to learn how to live with that unpredictability as long as we continue to have wars and special military operations.
Civilians are usually the targets of "war crimes." The pretense is that civilians are neutral. They are not. They are elements of the productive forces of your enemy. That does not mean you have the moral or legal right to assassinate them willy nilly, nor should you murder military prisoners of war, all or any of whom want to return to active duty shooting at you. It boils down to the question of "helplessness" and "compassion for the helpless."
We put soldiers into situations where civilians and enemies look and act alike. It is a horrible game of Russian roulette for them and they often develop what is known as "compassion fatigue." It is the ordinary result of warfare, of deliberately killing other human beings. Military commanders know about this effect, some depend on it, others, it seems, order it. War is terrifying, but inciting terror is another step toward inhuman brutality—evil.
I don't know how to determine whether Vladimir Putin has ordered terror, but it is clear he has told his generals to be rough and without compassion, perhaps even heedless of any rules of warfare they might have heard of. The ICC is where the Ukrainian government has put its faith. What the investigators now on the ground in Ukraine find will go into that Court for parcing and verdicts. As far as the US is concerned, however, the victor is the judge. Perhaps that is what "superpower" means!
(War and Peace)
Today is May Day
May First used to be International Workers (of the World Unite) Day, celebrated by the Soviet Union and communists of the Second International and others. Very few still do, but as we know Vladimir Putin has a thing about anniversaries and important dates in history. So, it might behoove us to keep a weather eye out and open today in his direction.
I ran across this interesting half-hour summary of the world situation: mainly Russian and Europe, but a little of China. "How Russia Will Die". (Quirky URL for copy & paste, if needed, just below.)
I have never heard of Peter Zeihan, but then again we are a full+ generation apart, so that is why I looked him up. He talks fast and glib, which is common for his generation, but tolerable. I have listed, below, a number of the things I would take up with him over a couple beers. But, overall, I think this is worth a watch by all of my readers.
Still, with its faults, Zeiman has condensed into a short view some of the many aspects of Russian civilization, which as his title suggests, is not healthy, and is certainly unsustainable in the mid-term.
(War & Peace, Russia & China)
22 April 22
As I sit watching various news show hosts talking to their guest analysts and their correspondants in Ukraine or Europe somewhere or even in Moscow, I ask my myself what if Ukraine drives Russia out of the entire eastern section of their country that has been in armed conflict since 2014? Will there be a meeting about it, or will the Russians just go home with their tails between their legs? What if it is the other way around? Or what if Mariupol is finally taken and Putin gives Zelenskiy a hint that the Mariupol victory is enough for him (along with the Donbas pieces)? Will someone in the west say "hell no!"? No country should be treated this way, not Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, any country! Or what if as Ukraine arms begin to really succeed and then Crimeans say they want back into Ukraine, then Putin doubles down on Ukraine? Crimea may turn out to be the key. But, in fact, the root question is: Will we in the west allow Ukraine to lose? And, if for all or any of the reasons you can think of it does lose, is it basically our fault for being so cowed by Putin's nukes? Are we at some point really ready to write these people off?
I listen carefully to the ex-NSC people say one thing, then the retired generals say something slightly more aggressive, and the show host says, "but what if Germany doesn't go along with ...?" It is circus sideshow of amazing proportions with jugglers everywhere not only keeping their eyes on whatever it is they have flung, rotating in mid-air, but with apprehensive glances at the other jugglers' stuff in mid-air, and then, booming across the world, there is some new provocative word-missile from Putin, designed in all likelihood to distract one of the jugglers into making a very big mistake. All of these questions and jugglers disguise that basic question, "will we let Ukraine lose?"
By the way, it may be that answering that question out loud, either way, is not in anyone's best interest.
I have said these are the opening chapters of WWIII. They are, if you understand that Putin is at war with us, our elections, our social fabric, with Ukraine for being itself, with NATO because he lives in the past with grudges that have long since devoured his soul. War is deliberate violence, like that man in his yellow coat sprauled on the pavement next to his bicycle in the Irpin suburb of Kyiv, his story over, suddenly. Like a hundred thousand people dying of hunger and bombs in Mariupol.
When you in your living room think about it with your feet up, Zelenskiy and his nation could have decided to opt for minimum loss of life and property by running to Lviv on the 23rd of February on the way to exile in the west. We would not have criticized that choice, but our world opinion of Zelenskiy and Ukraine would have been starkly different. The consequence of that "what if" would be that almost a generation of Ukrainians would then be born and some become adults during what would likely be an ethnic-cleansing sort of occupation and attempts at swallowing Ukraine whole. They did not, so the decision to duke it out with Russia, based on bravado, excellent intelligence of their own, good intelligence about Russia from the west, was made by them. And so, they must take the ultimate responsibility for their losses. "Not that we won't assist and rehab afterward, of course!" said irresolutely under our breath, lest too many overhear and hold us to it.
Doesn't this ring so utterly hollow! We all are war with Putin's Russia. It is like divorce; it only takes one to set it off. It seems beyond vulgar and inhuman to let Ukraine take all the casualties while I sit at home, paying taxes, and worrying about nuclear annihilations here and there.
We—NATO or the coalition of the willing—need to keep our powder dry. We have signalled enough to Putin what we are doing and supplying, and perhaps this is a good or even best ploy to keep his demented finger off that red button. You might say that having telegraphed our red line behavior postures to Putin, the secret decisions have even more "cover" than otherwise they might. Hard to tell. I hope that we have answered my "root question" in the negative. No, we will NOT let them lose!
The more I muse, still, the less sure I am that a "settlement" between Russia and Ukraine will have very much practical meaning on the next day after. No one trusts Putin or those around him, really. Or, it could happen that Putin having sorely embarrassed all of Russia, and having set about to make an even more embarrassing settlement, will cue to action those in his retinue who hate him, and so Vladimir disappears completely. This would give at least cosmetic assurance that Russia would stand by the agreement. We are not dopes, in the main, so I imagine that Blinken and Co. would get as much assurance as possible, but leaving the fulcrum question of war criminal-genocide Putin squarely out there for all to see and record into History, lest anyone think that bygones could ever be bygones. In that sense there can never be a status quo ante solution, except that Ukraine must be made completely whole.
(War and Peace)
16 April 22
The Inflection Point
As Anne Applebaum, staff writer for The Atlantic, said on Deadline White House on MSNBC Friday afternoon, Ukraine could and must remove all Russian troops completely from Ukrainian territory. I am assuming this includes Lukhansk and Donyets and Crimea. It is the logical, strategic, and tactical conclusion one would draw about establishing and maintaining the security of the sovereign nation of Ukraine and its people. Ms. Applebaum very recently visited Kyiv and President Zelenskiy and understands this to be the position of President Zelenskiy and, one must assume, he has communicated as much to President Biden and others in NATO already. On February 24th this would have been a very surprising and literally incredible announcement, but in mid-April, it is a fact. It has been a fact in the background as the world was getting used to a big war in Europe that Russia was not winning in three days, three weeks, or nearly two months. It is a fact that has very serious implications, to which I have alluded in previous essays.
On Thursday, April 14th, I wrote:
We are approaching what is perhaps the most serious, self-generated, existential inflection-point in the history of our species, and we need to know with reasonable precision what we are doing.It may not be clear to everyone, but everyone should know that the point of inflection is what Vladimir Putin does when it becomes completely obvious to the world that his military option to walk into Ukraine, topple the government, install his own, and then go on vacation to Sochi, was a repeating hallucination. It is now an irretrievable nightmare for which Putin or his government, if he turns up missing somehow, must answer. To be more precise, the inflection point will loom over the world when Putin realizes he cannot win and, worse yet, he must lose. Well, maybe though, he can save himself by accepting the humiliation and losing his grip on ultimate power over Russia. Not very likely.
It is clear that a gang of like-minded people can take over a weak government by mob-boss methods, operating on the principle of endemic corruption, to establish a kleptocracy—a government that has no goals beyond the working lifetimes of the ruling cabal. But, it turns out you cannot preserve the competence of your military from corruption at the same time. The vaunted Russian armed forces are not what everyone thought they were. The money poured in over the past twenty years has lined the pockets of crooked military and civilian officials, a lot of it done right before our eyes.
We in the west must avoid having additional, dangerous failures of imagination. The crucial test is now as we all anticipate the prospect of nuclear war. We must not continue to signal or to announce defeat in advance—to surrender to blackmail and the caprice and brutality of Vladimir Putin. It is vitally important to force ourselves to imagine where and when Putin will use a tactical nuclear weapon as his troops are forced to retreat back into Russia.
In our media, glib, "fair and balanced," stall-talk avoiding details about nuclear war may keep the impending horrors from the peoples of Europe and America, but clearly it is essential that NATO and its nuclear powers understand well in advance what they are going to do at that exact moment. I believe there will be at least one nuclear detonation for the world to deal with, but it must be met with absolutely pin-point intelligence and military response—not necessarily nuclear—right where Putin does not want it.Were it I, making the targeting decisions in response to a nuke in Donbas or Kyiv or Mariyupol or Lviv, I would put a GBU-43/B "MOAB" (or the moral equivalent) where it would utterly destroy a symbol of Russian autocracy, the Kremlin in Moscow, perhaps.
Is this way over the top? Think it out for yourself. Putin uses a nuclear weapon, so then what is our response? We need to control what looks like it might be uncontrollable. Typically, this means removing that player from the chess board. Easy to say, hard to do. What is really "over the top," though, is what Putin has done to Ukraine. It is utter barbarism. Russia is a barbaric rogue state. Russia ruins cities and rapes women and children. We cannot avert our eyes and write them off as fringe elements of a far away place. Would you prefer to fight in Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland?
Clearly, Russia as it is today cannot continue to be part of the community of nations. Since Jefferson dispatched the Navy and Marines "to the shores of Tripoli" we told the world we will not suffer barbaric behavior, but rather we will take it to them and eliminate them. Every recent opportunity has been missed by one American war-weary/wary, Iron Mountain patriot president after another. Joe Biden, though, knows that you cannot argue with bullies. You must teach them they cannot remain as they are. If there are fifty men (and women), or a hundred and fifty, running Russia right now, all the rest being toadies of various kinds, who "just follow orders" and otherwise go home at night to watch movies on TV, how difficult can it be to round them up and treat them to their just deserts? Difficult enough, but absolutely not impossible or even inprobable! The Russians themselves can do it, but they need help and guidance.
(War & Peace)
8 April 22
Propaganda and Critical Thinking
On Thursday the 7th, Nicolle Wallace had a segment with Julia Ioffe and Igor Novikov (on the right of your screen click on the name "Igor Novikov"), unfortunately this valuable session was clipped short before Julia Ioffe was able to speak about the last comment Igor Novikov made—about a 100 million Russians "zombified" by State propaganda. Of course we have our own problem with conspiracy theorists and cynical politicians repeating mammoth lies that lead to conclusions they favor—the White "Christian" Supremacy myth of American greatness fighting the LGTBQ liberals and abortion-mongers and commies.
In the missing part of the clip Igor mentioned the problem of getting information into the Kremlin media, using carefully selected images that will subliminally betray the Kremlin message. Igor used the expression "critical thinking," and I think he was drawing our attention to the futility of painting the whole Russian population with tar, when it should be obvious, and if not, then plausible, that millions of Russians are just as capable of discerning propaganda as millions of centrist Republicans in America are. In other words it is sort of an open question, but of course worth a try.
Yes, Putin anc Co, are doing a populist lap-dance on the Russian population, just as Trump and Co. are lap-dancing, titilating the grievance-ridden imaginations of their base with a very steady diet of lies and conspiracy theories. In the American case that base has a real grudge and dislike, hatred sometimes, of liberals, who they see as inadequately masculine, wishy-washy, do-gooder, socialists stealing their hard earned money to bribe Blacks and Browns and LGTBQ's to vote for them, hence their appalling lack of enthusiasm for democratic principles of government. For their own part, the Russians have been whipped into a froth of jingoistic nationalism, which plays to a reconstitution of the beloved empire enjoyed by the Tsars and the Bolsheviks, and conversely a hatred of those who have chosen to have their own democratic country, the Ukrainians.
Besides looking a bit like Jimmy Fallon (as he said on his first interview with Nicolle), Igor Novikov is a very smart man, educated and trained to do what he has been doing—educating the free world about the situation in Ukraine. Here is another clip from Nicolle's show about the "real" war for the hearts and minds. And, I am trying to figure out a way to learn from our own American experience to penetrate Vladimir Putin's even stronger and tighter grip on Russian public information and views. It was not by accident, by the way, that Igor said it is possible, too, that Ukraine will win the coming battle for the eastern regions of Ukraine. So, you see, the occasional stick in Putin's eye is useful, too.
I believe that the magic bullet in our psychology of propaganda and counter-force analysis is to tell the honest truth. Horror and humor penetrate, but the truth will out in the end. Much better to not have to explain a pack of lies. Putin and Co. will not have to—they'll be gone!
(War & Peace)
6 April 22
On Tuesday evening on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word news analysis program Lawrence managed to get actor/director Sean Penn to come into the studio to talk. Sean had just returned from a meeting with President Zelenskiy, a follow-up on a documentary Sean began with him before the invasion by Russia. Sean looked every minute of his 61 years, mostly tired, but not too tired to hatch a great bon mot about contemporary America. I have taken the liberty to title this essay with his words. I think the mot does not translate directly, but clearly to me, the perspective Sean has of what we look like from around the world and maybe had reinforced by talking with President Zelenskiy begins with the idea "utterly vulgar."
In today's NYTimes there is a guest essay, which caught my attention, "America's Vanishing Kingdom" by Thuy Linh Tu, a professor now of social and cultural analysis at NYU. Her story is more than just interesting, and her narrative has a riveting statement in it about American responsibility for what we do in and to the world. I heartily recommend it.
The Washington Post has a piece today: "NATO says Ukraine to decide on peace deal with Russia — within limits", which I think is about as muddled a piece of journalism as can be imagined on such an important subject. Maybe the Editors thought this was as careful a "headline" as the Post could afford today. I think the point is that a country fighting a war with its own army, but with arms from NATO gives NATO the right to set limits for the "deal." Think about that for the rest of the day, please.
(Society, War & Peace)
5 April 22
No Going Back
Monday was bad. The Ukraine situation resolved publicly into the horrible mess we thought it was, and we don't even know what kind of hell Mariupol has become ... but we suspect the worst. Putin's war machine reverted to WWII type human carnage, rapine, and rape, given the evidence around the streets now of Bucha among all the other civilian places being depoiled and then destroyed. We must mark this war-crimes-carnage point down as the pivotal axis of all thinking about Russia for the immediate future, meaning the next five to fifty years.
Television's talking heads have avoided, in the main, saying what has been the unthinkable until now. The assumption being that if we, a coalition of the willing, US, Canada, UK, France, perhaps Germany, go in to save what is left of Mariupol and to deter the destruction of Odesa and maybe to thwart the Russians in the Lukhansk and Donbas areas, Putin will not raise his white flag, but will see this as the existential threat to him and his Russian government, and he will have a tactical nuke lobbed at Kyiv. Amost everyone: civilians, ex-military, academics, think-tankers, expatriots, and news pundits believe he will do that. And we now see we have reached the dreaded inflection point and there's no going back. We cannot write off Zelenskiy's Ukraine or its Ukrainians. They are people needing a defense against a murderous regime—Russia and its brainwashed people.
No one in China or India is taking this stance. According to former Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul today, the two most populous countries in the world are getting Putin's version of the Ukraine War. We need very much to bring both countries around to at least neutrality, but believing them to be sane and committed to peace and collective security, to begin putting pressure on Putin to stop. There is much to unpack here still, but the question is not whether the western coalition of the willing is ready to form and act. All future-looking logic says it is a necessity. Failure here is not an option.
The thing that all along had been keeping me from the idea that Putin has been nuke-bluffing is the stance of a majority of Russians, soaked with Putin's propaganda as they are. More and more of my colleagues are saying that Putin does not care about these people, except if they look like they are being led to revolt against him. They are the narod of the rodina, Russia, the descendants of serfs, passive in the face of authority. On the other hand, observers in Russia, the veracity of whom I cannot attest, say that Putin's propaganda is working and that his policy toward Ukraine is now supported by 85% of the population. Okay, if that is so, then the carnage of Bucha and Mariupol and all the others rests firmly on their shoulders as well, passive hostages or complicit, either way.
All the US government people who have responded to the question of what we would do if Putin strikes back with any kind of WMD is that we will respond at the same level (leaving out the name of the device or substance to be used). I imagine, then, a Kyiv in radio-active ruins, a furious two days of recriminations, threats, mobilizations, Defcon revisions, during which Putin decides whether to destroy the world and Russia with it. His followers have said "what is the point of a world, if there's to be no Russia in it," which calls into question what exactly "existental circumstances" really means. It is fairly clear that Putin could pull the final plug on Russia and take out 900 million people world-wide as easily as he has murdered a quarter or more of a million Ukrainians.
So, maybe though, it is already a moot point. Given the war-crimes-carnage axis of this situation, is there an honorable, rational, responsible-to-the-future basis for negotiating a "settlement" between the Putin regime and Ukraine with NATO a party, or with the coalition of the willing, or any other country on Earth a party to it, a settlement that permits a country committed to war crimes to exist indefinitely?The answer to that question, Vladimir, is NO. It is NO, however you ask it. You have already crossed the line, your nation is a paraiah state—no better than North Korea—and the rest of the world with which you must contend has no intention of leaving Russia to be what you and your antecedents have made of it. If your existential crises are to be mine as well, then understand that your continued existence is not possible in my world. I am sure you understand this in the same way you murdered thousands in Ukraine. For us people are human beings; for you people are abstract tokens.
You misjudged everything again, and now you and the Russians will pay. You and your regime—every last one of them —dead men walking— and Russia as it was cobbled together by the Ruriki, the Muscovites, the Romanovs, and the Bolsheviks will soon be a thing of the past like the Roman Empire, the Byzantine, Persian, the Holy Roman, the German, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, Spanish, Portugese, Dutch, and even the last century's jingoist US empire, too.
If you choose to take with you as many as you can, so be it. You might do that anytime you like, anyway, it seems. If the Russian people choose to assassinate you, good! We can live with that! In the meantime, Vlad, we are going to help the Ukrainians by any means we think are necessary.
(War & Peace)
3 April 22
The Human Equation
A couple days ago I mentioned Jerry Brown and introduced the word "thumotic." The ancient Greeks (Homer, Plato, particularly) were trying to figure out the relationships between what we now in modern times call "emotions" and what seems like logical relationships observed among perceptions. Plato saw the human soul in three parts nous being intellect and reason, thumos being passion, and epithumia appetite and affection. So "thumotic" means something related to passion(s). The Greeks were very capably blazing the path to understanding how and why human beings acted the way they seem predictably to do. Millennia later we are still dealing with the questions the Greeks asked and trying to make better sense of the processes of the brain and mind.
I would have to say that we have more shades of gray in this quest than we had two and a half millennia ago. As a practical matter, though, among the civilizations on our planet we have not yet established an easily understood way of thinking about this, for which we have sufficient certainty that it could be transmitted to children and to which adults would be held responsible. Our civilizations seem to be based on rational processes and ideas, the nous part of our minds' outputs, but emotions seem to be involved in ways that loudly suggest that it is an error to separate them from anything and everything going on in our heads. This suggests that, as matter of "wiring" everything goes through parts of the brain associated with emotions. Remember, the reasons we have governments is because of what our human nature is. (Note: this will be on the final examination.)
One of the results of this quandary today is what Jerry Brown refers to as "Washington's Crackpot Realism," his review essay of six different books about international affairs in the New York Review of Books. Gov. Brown sees in many of the recent books about the "China threat" or the "Nuclear threat" as being concoctions of pseudo-rational thinking with emotional aspects reified into bumper-sticker mantras about the nature of enemies and therein the emotional logic of international affairs processes, or in the case of nukes, unconscionably ignored. He is mostly concerned with the not-quite-abrupt turn toward China as the next item on the US menu of countries to confront—or else. It looks like Brown is aware of the Iron Mountain hypothesis, and the authors he reviews are agents of that awful idea, especially, as now, they glibly imagine nuclear war, as if they were sure of surviving it.
Being more concerned at the moment with Russia, the idea of "thumotic" postures or even existences struck me hard when I think about the "grievance nationalism" of the Russians, both that they "naturally" have because of their agonizing history and that which is generated in the propaganda mills of the ruling elite. I had to ask myself if "thumosis"—angry passion sickness—is really the final answer to why Russia is what it is today, or at least why they keep acting out this way with belligerent, hostile, self-righteous, indignation at the random slights by other nations as probable intentions to pillage Russia once again. I doubt this is the final insight, but I think they like it this way. Clearly it is a backward-looking animus for their civilization.
I did not have to think twice about this before I began to see the radical right of the United States in the same way. White grievance is central to Trumpism, but it existed to be exploited long before he became a television star on NBC-TV. We in the US are trying to be a multi-cultural democracy, but tribalism defeats that hope so easily. White tribalists have been okay with the Experiment as long as their tribe, as they perceive it, is dominant. Let there be a drastic recession in which millions of people are flensed of their savings and homes, but only the poorest are recognized as injured—the poorist being minorities and "others" automatically—and you have the meat and potatoes for the same political expression of angry grievance.
Everything going on in our human heads is the issue. We do not yet have a public science of this, but thanks to deep convolutional neural network high functioning AI computer technology we may be getting closer to nailing down some of it. We have been able to devise AI computers that learn from their own experiences with data. That suggests that cognition, nous, is becoming understood. But AI computers today do not have thumos, they don't get angry and they do not have endocrine subsystems that act as force multipliers in their cognitive processes. We suspect, therefore, that Ai's do not have epithumia, either, they do not have appetites or desires, so far as we know.
Modern social psychology gives strong emotions more room to be acceptable, to be valued, to be understood as normal indications of healthy brain activity. My mind wanders a bit when I try to imagine how to approach white American grievance or Russian national grievance and the posturing and responses it creates in the real world with social psychology. I think Jerry Brown, the one-time novitiate, knows more about this than I do, but I am not sure he knows how to persuade politicians and national security specialists to look at everything through a less reactive and military-competitive lens.
Finally, history looms over all of this. Yes, we did look backward to find patterns among all the things happening on the savannah, the steppe, and we did this to be able to predict future dangers to our own survival. It is healthy to look to the past for analogies and, even, for consolations that suggest we are on a good path. But, as the saying goes, doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different, more satisfying result, is not good thinking, it is perhaps a form of insanity or neurosis. Doing different things requires courage, because at issue is survival. Clearly, right now in the world there are not many processes at work to value "thumos" less and yet value it some.
(War & Peace)
1 April 22
"It's All Too Much"
For me, an edgy, aging, glabrous, retired academic, a lifelong Democrat, an optimist—(or otherwise I wouldn't be writing these essays and tossing them out into the electronic winds)—the hands-down best two hours I spend each weekday are with Nicolle Wallace on her MSNBC show Deadline: White House! Hands down!! Nicolle and her producer staff and assistants and, especially her guests are tops.
Today was the best time for her to have that discussion of how bad it is outside our comfy homes and necessary illusions. From the traitorous jabbering of Trump, the sophomoric mouth of Madison Cauthorn (sp?) and Marjorie T.G., the spinelessness of the Minority Leader in the House, (I keep forgetting his name), and the arrogance of the mush-mouthed Minority Leader in the Senate, that homunculus from Kentucky, and now the scorched-earth bloodbath in Ukraine, the prideful paranoia of the brain-washed Russian people and their willingness to commit mass murder to make a point of their appalling failure to grow up to be a responsible society, to Putin himself, an ugly reminder for us of how simple it was to create a hell-bent monster to rule the people of his country and terrorize the rest of us.
Us! The American experiment in multi-cultural democracy is hanging by a thread. The main reason it is only a thread is because the other political party has decided that they cannot prosper in a democracy, especially one that already threatens their ability to muster up a base of voters who believe in their thinly veiled white supremacist program, their anti-Semitism, their do-nothing, know-nothing conservatism, their flouting of the rule of law ... and truth ... or civility itself! They could well take the Congress this November and bring the experiment to its knees. If so, two years hence and after perverting the election processes around the country, the presidential election will be a farce hidden in a pile of lies and threats of violence. Stocking up on toilet paper will not be sufficient. We must deal with traitors and remove them from society, and those who harbor traitors must suffer the appropriate consequences.
It is hard to say what I am most interested to comment upon, but given all the time and effort I have put into my education, I think that I can teach people with open minds about Russia, and to a lesser degree China, what they are doing. In today's Deadline: White House website video there is a menu of segments/blocks Nicolle covered. The menu is on the right side of your screen, and the item down one from the chat with White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klane, is a segment about Putin featuring Julia Ioffe of Puck news service. Click on that photo of Putin or on the name Julia Ioffe. I hope you take the time to watch it here: Is Putin being misled?. Watch until it closes briefly, please.
Okay, I apologize for having Julia Ioffe deliver more bad news, but, well, on April 30th I did finish the essay on "Sovereignty and Wishful Thinking" with this: "It will be international Cold War for quite a while, time measured in years, I fear. I think we might have the adequate attention spans finally." I agree that Putin or someone else will try to complete the work of destroying Ukraine as a viable country on Russia's border ... or even, as a "difficult" component of Russia itself. If that is the case, and even if it is not, someone—hopefully Attorney General Merrick Garland—will shut down the traitor and his disgusting minions soon.
Well maybe it isn't too much. I got a good bit of it into just about 700 words. It requires nested lists of things to do and not do anymore. It—this new Cold War with Russia—will be "won" by the people with the most truth and stamina.
If that's what it is, it is exactly what Russia wants, an excuse to be the "thumotic" empire of northern EurAsia. Yes, it has both slowly and rapidly become very complicated again. I could not even complete a short essay before that happened. This weekend we will look at "thumos" as former-Governor of California, Jerry Brown, finds it in his essay in The New York Review of Books of March 24th, about how Washington is preparing again for the full elaboration of the Iron Mountain hypothesis, this time with China.
(Society War & Peace)
28 March 22
Dealing with Putin
On Saturday the 26th of March, President Joe Biden uttered a surprising comment about President Vladimir Putin, who is thought by Biden (and me), aloud, to be a war criminal, a killer. He said: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power." After saying what most of us believe, he has been persuaded by the diplomats that the comment plays into the Russian ultra-nationalist narrative that the US and the West generally want to pick Russia apart. For some reason this "diplomatic sentitivity" ignors the fact of ongoing Russian interference in US politics, including messing with our elections, i.e., the method WE use to install people into or remove them from power.
The US media, particularly, among the more general group of "western" media, cling like grim death to the concept of imagined neutrality on as many issues as they can, including all the questions Russia has about itself since Peter the Great began the great process of modernizing Russia "along the lines of what the west had done already." I have written here several times about the great struggle between the so-called "westernizers" and the slavophiles, (sometimes referring to themselves as Russophiles). The angst over Biden's rageous comment (not outrageous) fits right into the great Russian internal schism, and (lo!) Biden takes a side, of course, in that seemingly endless Russian debate.
I believe that when you boil the Russian schism down to its main parts, it resolves into the mantra "catch up and surpass" versus "the west does not and cannot understand our national personality because our histories are so different." Buried in that are two and half centuries of being under the burden of the Mongol Yoke, unable all that precious time to muster the might to free themselves, incapable of modernizing for the lack of freedom at all the levels of society necessary for that kind of evolution, and the paranoia that the west not-so-secretly looks down its historical nose at Russia for what it always is and becomes, backward, looking for that imaginary time when it can finally throw off the shame of the Psychological Mongol Yoke, of being a subserviant culture.
The edifice of slavophilism is grievance based and paranoid. I try to assemble a list of qualities that the vocal slavophiles of the 19th century contend add up to a culture they believe is uniquely admirable. It could be said that the doctrine of sobornost' lies at the heart of the major element of slavophile thinking. "Sobor" means meeting or assembly; "nost'" means "-ness," so sobornost' is a culture where individualism is downplayed and subordinated in favor of community, especially, and particularly, the peasant "commune" sometimes called the obshchina or the mir, the former meaning "the about-us thing" and the latter meaning "the village world in which we live." The slavophiles reified the peasant commune as a natural culmination of social evolution. No such thing actually evolved in the west. In the 19th century the slavophiles saw "cooperation" as a key concept about Russian culture, and failed to see it in the west, seeing instead the vicious interactions of individuals in the various markets.
It is almost needless to say that, in basing their ideas of polity on the peasant commune in a state of feudal subjugation, the slavophiles inhibit themselves from taking a strong affirmative view of social evolution itself. It is self-satisfied in a way that western cultures are, instead, seeking betterment and social progress at the same time as scientific, technological, cultural (literary, artistic, musical) evolution through experimentation. I am saying that slavophilism is inherently hyper-conservative, status-quo-ante seeking. When Biden said recently nothing will be the same after the invasion of Ukraine, that the world will change, the Putins and ultra-nationalists of Russia heard blasphemy or just noise they do not understand.
It is by now trite to say that Putin and the ultra-nationalists—the current slavophiles—want to re-establish the Russian empire, something we knew in the 20th century as the Soviet Union. Why? It is because their worldview looks backward. The grievances of the past become the "lifeblood of the future," a word that has much less in it among them as it does for us.
So, back to the so-called issue about Putin's tenure in office. It is, most of the experts say, up to the Russians to decide. Introducing democratic responsibility to the Russian people may be a bridge too far. What experience or ability do the Russians have to remove someone as powerful as Putin and his retinue? Moreover, are we to ignore the bloody fact that Putin has devastated a neighboring country in contravention to every rule of civilized behavior? I do not think so. I am not a Clemenceau to exact reparation revenge on Russia, but I am a Harry Truman who treated defeated Japan as it needed desperately to be, to control it temporarily, to foster that illusive democratic responsibility among the Russians, to assure that Russia never does this again.
(Russian and China)
26 March 22
The Pope and The Patriarch
I read several Catholic news media to get a better idea of what Catholics under the unusually Christian teachings and ministry of Pope Francis think about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Boston Pilot, for instance, has taken an unsurprising "accommodationist" approach to the Russian Orthodox Patriarch and his flock, and even to the Russian people, but not the government, they say. The Vatican newspaper says very little about the March 2022 "meeting" between them, and seemed to think that their "understandings" of the 2014 Donbas affair were operable still. Most of what I read were platitudinous signs of failed ecclesiastical diplomacy.
Perhaps I should disclose that my mother was an old world Roman Catholic from an eastern European country. My father was Yankee Methodist. They raised me to be a Protestant Episcopalian, which after Confirmation and in the fullness of time I rejected entirely despite being slightly spiritual in nature. I have studied religions generally and, like Ronald Reagan's perspicuous son, have come up to now not wanting to study any but the Tao and Zen. Like Ron I am not afraid of religious mythology and write what I need to.
As you can see and easily understand from this Reuters piece last week, although Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis discussed the war in Ukraine, they did not get very far. The reason for that is not that Pope Francis was inept; it was that Patriarch Kirill supports the war (!!!) because of "the decadence of the west," presumably in full flower in Kyiv and the whole blooming country of Ukraine. This theme energizes Vlad Putin as well, as it has for generations of Russians since "Westernizers" became a major part of Russian society. So, if you find it at least unusual that a "man of God" would still in the 21st century see WAR as a cure for his moral issues with us, then please understand that Patriarch Kirill is not actually in the 21st century—and is very unlikely to ever be.
When I was in the Soviet Union I managed to see the celebration of an Orthodox rite commemorating I know not what in the Saint Nicholas of the Sea Cathedral in Leningrad. I saw the Metropolitan (the diocesan archbishop of Leningrad Region) surrounded by lesser priests pass through the crowd and disappear behind the iconostasis, that is, the screen that separates the place where the people stand (no pews) from the sanctuary where the rites actually take place. I mention this, especially, to underline the point that in the Orthodox Church there is a detachment in formal services that is not normal in western Christian religions. Remember that the Orthodox Church owned millions of serfs prior to the 1861 Emancipation and during the period afterward (all the way to the Great War) as the serf/peasants paid off their redemption dues. I also visited a large and famous church in Moscow on that trip and observed again the total lack of commoner participation in the proceedings, and also the Red Army people ordered to be there as a semi-quiet disruptive force, which belied the much more important truth that the Orthodox Church in Russia was at least "accommodating" to the Soviet regime, partly because they had no choice, but also because they had something then and now the Kremlin and Lubyanka wanted—the content of interesting confessions.
After very nearly 70 years of Bolshevik and Stalinist rule in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church is now thoroughly in the manger with the government. Putin is Orthodox in this perverse sense. It is true that the final settlement of the Ukraine War will involve Patriarch Kirill, but not as a facilitator, but as an obstacle. Pope Francis needs to open his eyes, as do the curia surrounding him, and the various centers of western Catholicism, France, Italy, Boston, Baltimore, etc.
The Russian Orthodox Church has yet to have a thorough "reformation." despite the reforms of Patriarch Nikon in 1652 through 1666, in which the liturgy was altered, giving rise to stubborn Orthodox who became known as "Old Believers." Russian Orthodoxy is rigid and at every important juncture in the social and political life of the nation it is for itself as a nexus of power. The babushki don't care; faith is not an intellectual journey among them. I have only a few ideas what will happen when Russia finally has a modern liberal political revolution, but it is quite clear that Kirill and Co. will not be for it. My hope is that the Russian Church survives just long enough to give solace to those who need it, and that it will slowly disintegrate into quiet sects over the course of a century.
(Russia & China, War & Peace)
25 March 22
A Kremlin spokesperson for Putin, Dmitri Peskov, assured us this week that Russia would only use nuclear weapons in an "existential situation." We were to understand that, if Putin or someone else with access to lauch authority in Russia felt (maybe even with cool reason) that the current Russian regime would surely be annihilated, they must then and there according to their "security doctrines" take drastic action.
In the theater of the absurd, this statement boils down to "If we think we are going to be annihilated, then we will initiate the process by which this will actually take place." There are several ways to read between the Cyrillic and the Latin orthography of this idea.
First, it means that Russia will not nuke Kyiv or Kharkiv or Mariupol or even Lviv, unless Ukrainian or other troops are out on Red Square threatening to topple the regime.
Or does it mean that, if the Russian population bestirs itself to a full blown revolution or just a credible coup d'etat, the threatened regime will nuke somebody?
In fact, is it not already clear that Russia's protracted invasion of Ukraine, concentrating on destruction of civilians of all ages, is their declaration that they have initiated the process by which the annihilation of their regime must take place?
Does the Kremlin understand that Russia is not the same thing as its government, especially not in the configuration we see there these last twenty years? If probably not, then the "existential crisis" is about one or a handful of bitter, defeated, doctrinaire, war criminals. Are we supposed to take that seriously? Is there not one among them hoping to go home for dinner that evening? ... or ever again?
Personally, I do not see how to live on the same planet with Vladimir Putin in a future where the military action has terminated. News analysts have wondered about how the members of the G-20 or any body of national representatives could sit at the same table, much less shake hands with these bastards!
In the game of Texas Hold'em you get to bluff and reason and make a series of bets based on objective and subjective knowledge of the cards and the players. As I see it, we are now at "the turn". With almost all of everyone's cards in front of us, Russia and the world, at this point. They've got nothing! Russia should fold, go back to mama, lick its 40,000+ wounds, and figure out what to do with two handfuls of criminal bastards holed up in the medieval fortress on the Moskva River.
We have already told Putin and the Russian people that we are willing, able, and are now currently strangling their economy until they quit being the world's worst and most incompetent bullies. If they understand that this means the "existential crisis" they fear is real, we have been telling them this for over a month ... and they have not nuked anyone yet. We have been calling their bluff ever since February 24th. Now every day they have spent destroying Ukraine will be leveled against them in the inevitable ugly end to this horror.
(War and Peace)
19 March 22
The Ugly Calculus of This War
Understanding a war your country has not initiated is full of conflicting emotions and a few surprises. There is history, of course, and in the case of Putin's War against Ukraine the history is of Putin's incremental military nibbling and gobbling of bits and pieces of territory of weaker neighbors adjoining the Russian Federation territory. In the case of Soviet Russia fighting in Afghanistan, a country that bordered the Soviet Central Asian Republics of the USSR, it was an adventure to extend the Soviet hegemony for many possible reasons, perhaps to later engage Iran or Pakistan. In the case of the civil war in Syria, aligning with and supporting the Assad dictatorship, it was a strategic move to establish a alliance-presence and port for the Russian navy on the Mediterrean Sea and to be closer to the oil-rich nations on the Arabian Peninsula.
To understand Putin's Ukraine War one must consider the aims and goals of all parties. Once those are established one must gauge the likelihood of success in terms of the weapons that may be brought to bear and to inaugurate an on-going process to understand the dynamics of success and failure of all parties. Dynamics means the causes and effects of and between many moving pieces. Think of the classical war-table with models of ships or tanks and staff pushing them around the table with long sticks, but add to that "image-labels" indicating the effect of a piece being at its location in relation to all the others.
In all modern wars intelligence is essential to making war plans as well as assembling one's forces, and for the other side, organizing and deploying a defense and, if successful in that, how much of an offense can you entertain within the limits of your arms and your principal war aims. Public information and propaganda are also extremely important for all parties. Along with these two areas, there is a less definitive aspect that will come into play, which I am going to call "stones," which is more than "heart" or courage.
Putin's immediate aim was to subjugate Ukraine, maybe even to incorporate it into Russia itself, which meant overturn the government and install his own by any level of force necessary. The reason shades off into his own conception that Ukraine is part of Mother Russia historically.1 Behind this Putin intends to set up Russia as a great power with which he can perhaps, if not dominate, then strongly affect world geopolitics in favor of Russia and, particularly against—to defeat—the "morally corrupt" west led by America.
So, in this sense the Ukraine War, if the US with NATO only supply Ukraine, but do not get physically involved in combat, is also deliberately a proxie war with the US. But if the US gets physically involved in combat, Putin believes he can decide whether to make the war a direct confrontation with the US or not, and that means also NATO. Morphing from a proxie war to a direct confrontation is not by any means a decision to be made soley by Putin. NATO or any single nation thereof can introduce direct combat involvement in many different ways, silently and stealthily or not, but probably incrementally and obliquely enough to confound Putin's planning.On the ground, Putin's intelligence was faulty2. Putin's generals' military strategy was wrong, too cautious and predicated on the absurd notion that Russian troops would be seen as friendly liberators by many. Putin's tactics, given these failures, have altered his plans and aims. The central aim has devolved to bringing Ukraine, but particularly President Zelenskiy, to his knees by destroying cities and by any means available piling up dead Ukrainians of all ages in order to horrify everyone and specificlally Biden and Zelenskiy. Putin's propaganda indicates that he may include the use of weapons of mass destruction, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, if pressed.
I think he will when he is at the end of his rope. It is more than "just likely" to bring in3 the US, if not all of NATO—a fight to the finish. Putin is not suicidal, but he is stubborn, self-righteous, and believes he has no other choice ... in history. Having said that, when Putin is at the end of his rope, his retinue of supporters are not at the end of their ropes necessarily. Putin will give the order and it will be ignored and he he may be terminated on the spot, it depends on how many among them have the stones to thwart him. (I lived in the home of a latter-day Leningrad Bolshevik for a week, and I saw in him ample good common sense.)The Ukrainian main war aim is survival of the nation and its population with minimal damage and death by engaging in direct combat with the invading Russians and by guerilla/insurgency. Yes, this is self-contradictory, but sending the government into exile and doing nothing against the invasion was not a viable choice. Secondly, the goal is to permanently remove all Russian and mercenary forces from the original 2013 territory of Ukraine, meaning that the Donetsk and Lukhansk regions and Crimea return to Ukraine. In extremis, there may be wiggle room in the east. The background goal is to get NATO materiel, manpower, and moral support. Manpower is the big issue, because there is always the problem that Putin may be deranged and push the red button ending WWIII. Yes! There is no question that WWIII has begun or is "gathering," as some have written.
Ukraine wants to be a constituent member of the EU. They would also like to be a member of NATO, and that will happen sooner, if Russia does what it needs to do to Putin, or possibly if NATO does combat with Russian forces for a prolonged period. And, of course, when Ukraine or all the allies expel Russia from Ukraine there is the matter of reparations. I think this is going to be a big problem, because the Russian economy is already damaged and may end up being on western life support before Putin is removed.
Putin is the main problem, of course, but there are others in his tight group that must go as well. The problem, rightfully, belongs to the liberal forces within the Russian population. So they may be 65% of the voting population, the young, the well-off, the urban populations, those with international travel experiences, but not the rural, villagers, the aged, those with lesser education. Putin is a war criminal by any definition. He is worse than just that, though. He is a monster who has specifically ordered the mass killing of civilians and their children. Just keep in mind that he does not consider Ukrainians to be human beings worthy of life itself. Personally, I cannot imagine a peace with him still running Russia. So, he and his crowd must be thoroughly removed from power. How the Russians themselves do that is imaginable, but will they? Stones?
One of the most likely scenarios is that, with effectively minor combat involvement of NATO and allied Stones, the Russians and mercenaries will be driven out of Ukraine, but during which—without NATO combat support—many, many additional thousands of innocent Ukrainians will killed or grievously wounded. That is the ugly calculus of this war; it is the fulcrum of NATO and Ukraine decisions.Zelenskiy and millions of us in west know that we must, as innocent Ukrainian blood flows, participate in the combat zone. Putin knows this calculus. Already, though, Ukraine by itself has mounted counter-offensives, and that brings up the other side of the calculus—Russians killed and wounded: so far, perhaps 14,000 dead and twice or three times that wounded. He cannot hide this hideous sorrow from his people. They will be angry at us, of course, but the soldiers in body bags will erode his propaganda and the revolution there will slowly mount in earnest—it has begun already as you know.
Then what? Well, rebuilding begins within Ukraine with help from everywhere, but the world is not at peace with Russia until Putin's gang is gone. We must let both the brain-washed and our allies in the Russian population know that removal of the current regime will be the necessary end of WWIII. This will be accomplished by "strangulation." It might not be pretty inside Russia, but the other option is unacceptable. Russia is weak enough that a war on its own territory could take a very long time to recuperate from, and therefore, given the other geopolitical issues, it is not a good idea to actually destroy Russia. Sanctions applied like tourniquets and untightened at each promising event or tightened again for relapses will work. The global economy will suffer, too, but the costs in Russia and the world will be infinitely less than having Putin or his ilk in power.4
1 — The truth is that Ukraine, as the territorial successor to Kievan Rus', the Varangian-Slavic political entity before and during the Mongol two and a half century take-over, is actually the "mother" of the little princedoms that sprang up east of the Novgorod part of Kievan Rus' along the upper Volga River and its local tributaries like the Moskva River, the one of them becoming Ivan IV--The Terrible's "Muscovy."
2 — Sergey Naryshkin, (from a very old family in Russia) has been fired as head of SVR, the foreign intelligence service, indicating that Putin is angry. Angry is not good. Soon enough he will find that the successor foreign intelligence person will feed him b.s., too. Very angry is not good, either. But this means a) the SVR is on higher alert than usual, but b) somewhat disorganized likely less competent.
3 — How the US or NATO will "come into" the fighting depends on why and whether we have the "stones" for it or not. Zelenskiy's pleas so far have not brought NATO or individual nations into the fray, but one hopes that before Zelenskiy seriously considers surrender of any kind, he will have discussed it with Biden and NATO, and they will advise him not to, and therefore, that they must commit to enter the combat. I think the US is already on the ground inside Ukraine, mainly training for new weapons. It is just a matter of time that this leaks out and becomes part of the propaganda war. Putin may choose to take American presence as a pretext to do something really horrific, or it is possible he will play rope-a-dope and lead the US further and further in. I don't think he is that smart. I do think it is INEVITABLE that some NATO and, accordingly US, ground and air forces will end up in combat ... and that will not in and of itself launch nuclear weapons.
4— Removing all the nuclear weapons from post-WWIII Russia is appealing. The problem is that the nuclear club around the world contains actors and understudies whose motives are suspect all the time. Moreover, there is China on the border of what will become something like the Konfederatsiya Rossiyskikh Shtaty. President Xi is pragmatic and, so far, not driven by phantoms of the imagination. He knows that Taiwan is Chinese, but that is all he gets to know until the government of China attains a sufficient level of democracy and liberal values.
(War & Peace)
17 March 22
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is thought to be the central figure in modern philosophy. Kant is known widely, if not thoroughly, as the author of the Critique of Pure Reason and two other Critiques which are not as prominent. He is known for his statement of the categorical imperative, which is something like "the Golden Rule," but more formal and Prussian. And, Kant is also known for having his "dogmatic slumbers interrupted" by David Hume, the Scotsman, and thought, perhaps, to be the most important of the native English-speaking philosophers. Kant lived in the ancient city of Königsberg, but really had nothing to do with the seven bridges of Königsberg Problem, only two of which remained after the Red Army swept across Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia during the last months of WWII. You probably have heard at one time or another of all of these high-lighted link topics. What you probably have not heard much about, if anything, especially recently, is what happened to the German city of Königsberg.
Well, as you have just read from the last link, it has been called Kaliningrad for the past 67 years. In 2010 there were about 940,000 persons living in the Kaliningrad region. As of 2010 86% were Russians, 3.7% Ukrainians, 3.6% Belarusians, and 1.1% Lithuanians. In the city Kaliningrad itself, there were about 440,000 persons. A few Germans have found their way back into the region, but after more than two generations, for all practical purposes it is no longer a German or Prussian-German place. In 1945 the Red Army evicted all the Germans they had not yet killed.
Anyway, as one important part of the settlement to be accepted by the new government of the new Russian Confederation after Putin's Ukraine War1, Kaliningrad shall be sumarily removed from its connections to Russia. It was unavoidable "booty" for Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, pragmatically understandable then, but completely out of the question now. One proposal is to award everything of the Kaliningrad Oblast east of 21st-E meridian to Lithuania, and award everything west of 21-E to Poland, which would include the City, to be renamed, once again, as Miasto Immanuela Kanta, (Immanuel Kant City), perhaps. The Russian people living there would be politely asked if they want to leave and return to Russia, if opting not to, they might, nevertheless, be subject to some reasonable mid-term political restrictions. The Polish and Lithuanian authorities will find productive accommodations for these people, many of their parents having been herded into the region by Stalin et al against their better judgement or will.
In his remarks to the Russians on March 15, 2022, President Putin said that the West was already carving up the Russian Federation. Quite the opposite and more in keeping with the existential issues of planetary climate change and over-population geopolitics, I am persuaded that the 84 remaining oblasts of present-day Russian Federation be converted and consolidated into perhaps from six to a dozen states, each an equal part of a Confederation of Russian States (Konfederatsiya Rossiyskikh Shtaty, such that the states each have rights reserved to them for the efficient modernization and development of their economies, arts, education institutions, with adequate police, but no armed military forces. We believe that retaining the term "Russian," rather than some ideological terminology, recognizes the best, positive, historical heritage of Russian culture and definitely acknowledges and promotes the dignity of modern Russian peoples seeking liberty and happiness (schast'ye).
1 — How this comes about is complicated, but not very much in doubt. The stages of the process leading to this will be discussed here later this week.
(War & Peace)
16 March 22
"Close the Sky"
Today, President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appeared virtually before the Congress of the United States to reiterate his pleas to the UK and Canada and anyone else who will listen to provide his country with lethal weapons that could end the bombardment of his cities by Russian short-range ballistic and cruise missiles and high flying Russian aircraft that shoulder launched Stinger SAMs cannot reach. Ukraine needs to close off the sky to Russian armed forces, because although they have brought the "behemoth" to its knees on the ground, it is reducing Ukraine's cities to rubble and dust.
Ukraine has a few Mig 29's, no more than 30 probably. It has more pilots than planes. It wants more of these almost modern jet aircraft, but NATO critics say that Ukraine is not using what it already has, and others say, that is for a very good reason. Kyiv is the jewel, capital city and cannot be allowed to be taken by the Russians. Accordingly, given that the war could last months before Kyiv is in immediate danger of occupation, using the existing Ukrainian Mig 29's now would likely result in losses and reduce the number of operable planes and thus capability of the armed forces at the critical hour for Kyiv. Meanwhile, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, and other large cities are being destroyed.
Of course the NATO response has been centered on the problem of inadvertently sparking WWIII with Russia by providing planes to shoot down Russians. Well, Russia has lost 77 aircraft and 90 helicopters according to the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians have done this with Stinger SAMs from the U.S. mainly. The media has wondered aloud (meaning audible in Russia) what the difference is between a Mig-29 and a Stinger, both provided by NATO? The answer has been vague and dismissive. Maybe we are already in WWIII, or we are not, and still fretting about problems we have already gotten an answer to. Putin does not want WWIII, but he does want to create a new Russian Empire and hold sway over much more than that. Already, thanks to the ineptitude of his Army, none of that dream will come to pass.
I am going to offer a "radical" theory of this terribly awkward situation in which Ukrainian civilians are being slaughtered daily. My theory is deliberately reminiscent of the Eisenhower strategy in WWII. Ike was annoyingly cautious, too, but he knew from the outset that, unless Hitler were assassinated and Germany pulled back all their forces, the Allies would have to take western Europe back by invading and pushing the Nazis out by main force. He knew that battle-hardened troops and generals would be far more successful in the coming invasion than those who were not. So, he waited until the North African campaign had turned into the bloody Sicilian and Italian campaigns. And he waited until he had overwhelming materiel in England to be deployed. So, perhaps, NATO and Biden's US are doing that: getting central Europe better ready for possible encounters with Russian forces, getting Naval forces where they need to be in the Mediterranean and Black and White Seas, as well as, deployed intelligently in the western Pacific, perhaps, say, the Sea of Japan, of Sea of Okhotsck, the Philippine Sea.
Fifty-five years ago during my fourteen consecutive months at sea in the Med, very few USN ships went into the Black Sea, but 21st century naval operations have been different, have peaked and now amount to many fewer actual ship days in the Black Sea than, say, ten years ago. The Black Sea is not a pond or a lake, but the only way in (or out) is through the Bosporus at Istanbul, Turkey, which President Erdogan has declared closed to warships. Turkey is a NATO country, though, and has supplied low-tech lethal drones to Ukraine already. Meanwhile, there are protocols for US nuclear submarines regarding extended deployments and missions in "restricted waters." If there were just one Los Angeles Class boat and one Ohio Class boat lying quietly on the sea bottom waiting, that part of the calculus has to be factored in.
Closing the Sky over Ukraine is relatively easy, but hedging the bet against Putin flipping out completely and nuking Kyiv, for instance, is much more difficult. Allied intelligence about Putin himself and his close henchmen may be more dire than we will ever publicly know. I worry, though, that NATO might cower in the shadow of the necessary secrecy. As former Ambassador McFaul said on MSNBC, the media needs to stop chattering about munitions details, and the allies should just get these resources quietly into Ukraine for both military and humanitarian reasons. I think President Biden needs to heed the personal political liability he is incurring by not doing so.
Readiness is the watch-word and I have no idea what the actual state of NATO ground, air, and naval readiness might be. Suffice it to say, it is better than the readiness of the Russian Army. The Sixth Fleet carrier groups have been impressive for many decades. The Amphib Forces are not less impressive, but considerably less fascinating. Logistics is a proven science in the US Navy. So, I said my theory would be "radical." I can assure you that it is 100% realistic and a set of plans to counter any use of any kind of WMD by Putin (or his inner circle) has already been drawn up and parts of it communicated in varying degrees to every head of state in NATO and to the House Intelligence and Senate Select Intelligence Committees. Some of the pieces have to shift position and some need augmentation, but we are ready for hell if Putin wants more of it.
(War and Peace)
11 March 22
Ukraine War Aims
Maybe Vladimir Putin wanted only (a) to quickly change the regime in Ukraine back to one that leaned closely to the Kremlin for guidance, and (b) to reduce the puny Ukraine military to nothing, to complete impotence. I think regime change was the forethought, but he had other objectives, or cunningly, a fall-back plan, which he thought could (with the same forces) be implemented on the fly, if—as things almost always do in war—the invasion required more than simple adjustments, as when one's army gets bogged down by incompetent logistics, magical thinking among the generals, and poorly trained and motivated troops. So replacing Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy with his own hand puppet is not going to be as easy as he thought.
Retired Lt.Colonel Alexander Vindman quietly suggested sometime last week that Russia's war aims would quietly shift from regime change to massive humbling destruction of Ukraine's economic and civil infrastructure. Vindman also said of this switch of aims that setting Ukraine back a century physically would achieve the same security goal that Putin's War was initially intended to achieve. Adding civilian targets adds terrorism to the means and the ends. I think most analysts believed that the first plan would cost Russia not very many lives, even while visiting horrors on the Ukraine army. In reality, now that we know the Ukraine army is anything but puny, that allied military materiel is flowing in rapidly and effectively, the scorched-earth and rubbled-cities war-strategy of Russia means they will be burying many thousands of their soldiers. And since this is a televised war everywhere but Russia, Putin's weak hand is an open secret now.
So, in a war, the party(ies) on the other side also have aims, the first is to stop the invasion and push the invaders back to where they came from, but as time passes and casualties mount, the defenders make additional, more detailed decisions about what their intermediate and end goals might be, assuming a range of final outcomes, including worst-case surrender or defeating the enemy and reprisals including enemy regime change and reparations. Decisions like these must take into account the strength and prowess of the enemy and, therefore, one's own chances and prospects. Prospects for Russia include how many of its own armed forces and civilians might be killed before the situation becomes literally intolerable. Allies must do the same. Non-combatant allies have a slightly different calculus to consider: how many "friendlies" might be killed before the situation becomes not only geo-politically, but also morally intolerable.
For many of us outside of Ukraine the situation is already intolerable, but the situation is understood to be militarily and geo-politically dynamic, meaning that one's own actions may change the enemy's means and ends—use of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, specifically. But what would it mean, for instance, if San Marino sent in a platoon of sappers to blow up Russian HQ buildings? Would Putin nuke tiny San Marino? What if Liechtenstein confiscated all the Russian kleptocash in their bank vaults? Would Putin bomb them? What if the US or another nation in NATO gave Ukraine two or three dozen combat and intel drones? It is pretty easy to figure out what the military effects would be, but the geo-political dynamics are very hard to precisely discern. As former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said today on MSNBC's Deadline White House on Thursday: do not talk or debate about it, just ... do it.
So, for the US-led NATO countries, the paramount consideration is maintaining unity. That puts a dab of grease on the sole of every NATO shoe. In fact, the longer this war goes on and for every inch taken by Russians in Ukraine, the bordering NATO countries know and are publicly stating, Putin must lose this war ... There can be no negotiated settlement. He must be defeated and removed, otherwise they are next.
Still, if you were drawing lines in the sand and were to pose the question: "How many Ukrainian casualties are we (NATO) willing to tolerate? Would the answer be 44 million? 22 million, 4 million, 2 million, 200,000 or 100,000 or 10,000 beautiful, sacred, Ukrainian lives.
how many of that number you chose are the NATO countries willing to share with the Ukrainians?
just where and when does NATO cross a moral line into the intolerable?
As I watch these beautiful people and their infants and kids slaughtered by wanton terror-tactics of the Russian army and air forces, I have long since crossed over my moral line and would, if I were 50 years younger, be there fighting wearing the American and the NATO flag patches on my coat. I am telling President Biden that standing there with a red line staring him in the face, that he has to stop imagining he can see or predict the future. He is the leader of the "free world" and the moral challenge he faces is, in reality, already made. The longer he waits the worse it gets.The history of the United States is one of delaying, putting off important decisions until there is some provocative event: the shelling of Fort Sumpter, the sinking of the battleship Maine, the sinking of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, 9/11. Every time we enter the fray late, the casualties are higher because we are dealing with battle-hardened and desperate enemy troops and nations. We all know we will be pulled in by our responsibilities under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty or by a deranged Putin going after the armies on the other side of our red line. Putin does not have red lines. He does whatever he wants, and he is already losing this war.
My proposal for allied war aims are: (a) driving all Russian military forces out of Ukraine, (b) demanding their unconditional surrender on their own territory, (c) imposing regime change in Moscow and Minsk and reparations on Russia and Belarus like, perhaps, a conscripted CCC/WPA until Ukraine is rebuilt.
It is clear enough to me—as a person well-educated (and experienced) in the history of Russia and the Soviet Union and post-1991 Russia— that the Russian "Federation" is an unmanageable colossus that must be reorganized completely, that the dissidents and other civilized citizens of present-day Russia are not equipped emotionally or in practical experience to carry this out by themselves—although we would have Russians, including people like Alexei Navalny and perhaps fifty others, involved in every significant decision. It will probably take five years to complete the political reorganization of the territory now occupied by the Russian Federation, and so there must be direct McArthur-style administration imposed until it is manifestly no longer necessary.
The hardest part of all this is bringing 70 to 80 million Russians up to speed about contemporary reality. The other 70 to 60 million are "woke". Russians are people almost just like those in Texas where I lived recently for five years, full of their own traditions, curious, inventive, artistic, competitive, literate, poetic, adventurous, congenial, hospitable, spiritual, and deserving of fulfilling lives. The world does need Russians; they have many things to show us; our world would be even more impoverished without them as friends!
(War and Peace)
9 March 22
Last evening on The Last Word Lawrence O'Donnell mentioned, not quite in passing, a statement made by an unidentifed Russian, in some vaguely referenced venue in Russia as saying:
In fact, as reported by The Moscow Times the statement was made on February 28th on state television by their news anchor—Dmitry Kiselyov. It is extremely unlikely that Kiselyov decided to say this by himself or phrase it in just that way. It is directly from Putin his own fiesty self, as I am sure Lawrence understood it to be.
It obviously is more rattling of nuclear sabres. It is a special kind of Russian nihilism, which Putin knows is fairly unfamiliar and jarring in the west and quite the opposite in Russia, but certainly not comforting there or anywhere else on the planet, all of which raises the question of why McDonnell chose to add this statement to the waning moments of his show and why with such deliberate vagueness?
Clearly, to me at least, it is because Lawrence is understandably frightened about Putin actually using nuclear weapons. He hints at it all the time. I am pretty sure the whole world understands the threat Putin poses already. I and many others have questioned the sophistry and dissembling being carried out by NATO regarding getting into so-called "direct" combat with Russia. So far the most faint-hearted voice in NATO is the prominent voice, and so who can gainsay a small country hoping to avoid being nuked into real oblivion by Putin? Most of us are clear about that, especially those who feel like their survival stores are secure and their cellars comfy. Most of us, though, are not equipped to deal with any kind of nuclear holocaust, so Putin has again waxed and put his personal seal to the nuclear blackmail note he publishes every so often.
My criticism of Lawrence is this: if he is going to pass along important bits of Putin propaganda, the importance of it demands that it be inspected by experts on his show, especially the wide-open question of exactly how nihilistic the Russians themselves are. I think we know that Putin is definitel NOT a nihilist. His ego is much too fat for that.
It occurs to me, though, that the invisible Putin avatar out there in the snowstorm is beginning to take shape. Putin may well have been calculating the wisdom of nuking Kyiv all along as part of his fall-back Plan D. He does not know what the NATO or the separate US response might be to that level of brute force. To me that is the main question: what would the west, the EU, NATO, or any part of those do if Kyiv were nuked? It is hard to discuss such a thing, much less in public, without giving the enemy an advantage we do not want them to have. Which takes us right back to the shrewdly nihilistic statement that begs everyone to understand that if Russia is destroyed her submarines will attempt to destroy the rest of the world more or less automatically. I think, nevertheless, that someone other than President Biden must say something tantalizing about using nukes on Ukraine.
(Russia & China and War & Peace)
8 March 22
What is that old saying: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity"? The conduct of the democracies throughout the 20th century and on into the present has missed that point.
One cannot countenance bullies. Rogue political leaders will bully, kill, destroy, and therefore they must be eliminated. The earlier you catch it, the better. The later you respond the worse!Nevertheless, we all are being harangued on television by putatively authoritative people saying that a "no-fly-zone" over Ukraine is wrong, stupid, and a variety of more complex denials. News host of The Last Word on MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell, said last night that "no-fly-zone" is a silly and dangerous euphemism for what would really become an "air combat zone." Does he really think that had not occurred to any of us?
A no-fly-zone is a statement, a precise statement that the governing authority of the zone declares its airspace off limits to all, well, all but those enforcing the statement. There are no-fly-zones all over the place. My former brother-in-law flew his Cessna over the White House years ago. He was lucky they did not shoot him down or put him in prison. They got him at Reagan International airport, where he claimed not to have known where he was and that his radio went out. They let him keep his pilot's license. Isn't that what is going on right now in the west, permitting Putin to wage genocide against Ukraine?!
The Ukrainian President Zelensky has declared the skies over his country a NO-FLY-ZONE and, guess what, he does not have the full capability of backing up his declaration, but has asked that NATO and Washington, London, Paris back up his words with their words. They all have declined to do so. Not coincidentally, President Putin, the outlaw invader of Ukraine has said in Russian words that as far as he is concerned a NATO declaration of a no-fly-zone over Ukraine along with supplying Ukraine with munitions is and would be an act of war. If your neighbor says he is at war with you, you are at war. It is like divorce; it only takes one to un-tango.
The legalists are trying to keep Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Baltic states, indeed all of the NATO countries, including those in North America from being attacked by Putin's war machine, particularly with nuclear weapons, which are—we all fully understand—might be the end of humanity on its home planet. I call them legalists because although we have not received the "normal" (heaven help us!) format of a declaration of war, we are already at war, because Putin has already declared our actions to be acts of war against him and his country.
President Zelensky is absolutely correct in saying that the deaths of Ukrainians are now "equally" on the heads of the western nations who are LEGITIMATELY afraid of being attacked. Zelensky is no fool in saying this, because it is true, but there are OTHER TRUTHS at play. Putin is a black box, out of which no one but Putin himself knows what will leap out and rain hell up whom. I have written about the local and distant targets of Putin's war machine. The legalists are helpless in their arguments along with the rest of us. The question out here in the hustings is: what, if anything, do they know that they are not telling us? It is obvious that NATO is just now relearning the full meaning of "collective security," and that frayed cuffs on that uniform are visible from here. Anything else, Joe? Lawrence?
The fact is that Putin is trapped, hoist by his own petard. He is trapped by the incompetence of his army and air forces, neither of which has been able to do more than murder random civilians and their children and to reduce apartments and other buildings to rubble. Putin knows now he is much weaker than he or we thought he was. Does that knowledge lead him to the nuclear option? What are the real chances of that? Think about it from the combined points of view of the skippers of our nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines toting about 1,700 strategic nuclear warheads ... and the point of view of Russians who have access to Putin and who have families and feelings for Mother Russia!
Cowards are people, those men and women who cannot see the big picture all at once. They do not understand "opportunity cost accounting and thinking." It may well be our leaders have information that we out here do not, and it may be Top Secret with further restrictions, but a huge majority of Americans think that at a minimum NATO should declare the no-fly-zone, whether they intend to enforce it or not. Also please set DefCon Three. The private defconlevel.com says 3, but US government says 4.
(War and Peace)
10/7/21AUKUS: What Is It?
On September 15th the Biden administration made public a new strategic alliance with Australia and the UK. A central part of the alliance was the US agreement to provide nuclear submarines to the Australians. The French protested because they were in the "midst" of negotiating the sale of diesel-electric submarines to the Aussies, a project of considerable value to the French economy and the French military industrial base.
Here is a link to the New York Times version of an article by a pair of expert voices on international affairs, Adam Mount, PhD, and Van Jackson, PhD, both scholars and, it seems, also public intellectuals / pundits from serious academic backgrounds.
According to the NYTimes version, "Mr. Mount is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, focused on U.S. nuclear strategy. Mr. Jackson, a former Pentagon official, is an expert on Asian security and U.S. foreign policy." This article is also published at several other websites by one or both of the authors, such as The Federation of American Scientists and several news outlets, like NBCNews.com.
Here, immediately below and in a slightly larger font, is the introductory first paragraph of the article, which caught my attention almost instantly because of the slightly and overtly discourteous address to President Joseph Biden as simply "Biden" in the title. The title is, itself, a subterfuge for a broader purpose, one which is given a treatment they believe will appeal to the older, more seasoned, but less intellectually agile members of their "crowd." That discourtesy to Biden was just the beginning. And for the record, truthfully, I have read much better and much worse articles in this genre. This one nicely illuminates part of our contemporary foreign policy Greek chorus (Google—a group of 'performers' who are usually unrelated to the central action of a story, but comment on the central action to provide the audience with a what might be called a third dimension of the story.)
"For more than a decade, Washington has struggled to prioritize what it calls great power competition with China—a contest for military and political dominance. President Biden has been working hard to make the pivot to Asia that his two predecessors never quite managed."
Forgive me, if I seem picky about this, but introductory paragraphs are designed to catch the eye of followers and potential recruits, or to annoy the people about whom the writers have scant respect. So—whatever—I have to deal with a few of the authors' key words and expressions, just as if these terms really are deliberate hooks to catch the imagination of people they both believe to be massively mistaken about international statecraft ... which I believe also to a greater or lesser extent. I believe I have in that regard the advantage of five years as a naval officer some time ago.
Just for a starter to give you an idea of my way of doing things, the word DECADE seems innocent enough, but is it? No, it is deliberately an indefinite time. First, it is a key to the authors' point of view, which is to say "not ground level" but perhaps not as high as 30,000 feet in the sky, either. They could have told us that the current situation has something to do with the emergence of China or of Xi Jinping, himself, as General Secretary of the CCP in 2012 or President of the PRC in 2013. I suspect the latter, but I think the inspecificity is excessive rather than just deliberately foggy. Perhaps they think calling a spade a spade would compromise something they will say later on. I don't know for sure, but surely Xi will know all about this AUKUS thing by now. The authors believe AUKUS is a(nother) reversion to tried and basically flawed first principles. Yet, it is fairly obvious that it is also much more and much less than that. Stay tuned.
We are all used to the collapsing of bureaucracies and administrations into collective terms like "the White House," "the Pentagon," "the Vatican," and so forth. We are inured to it. Our authors use the term WASHINGTON and pronoun a short bit later IT (not they). Of course we all know that there's more than one entity in DC involved here. In fact, though, in every office competing interests vie for attention. Most are muffled, some re-emerge, some are leaked to the media when and where they will do the most harm, and so forth. So, to my point, the metonymy reifying the city over its parts perpetuates a false impression of agreement among the parts, and in DC that would be rare indeed. Why do this? It tends to shut some of the parts up.
They use the term STRUGGLE in their opener. It could be called a struggle, but debate (and discussion) are more the modus operandi with individuals feeling the heat as their arguments are successful or fail to impress. I will admit that life in lots of organizations takes on a kill or be killed flavor, but after a couple of losses one learns that the idea is not actual death, but living on, perhaps, to discuss another day. Maybe these two voices feel their position is being given short shrift, so they are seeking an "underdog" flavor to their essay. I believe their fundamental point is more like a "large and complicated and unfashionable new dog" on the block, and as such may be facing the inevitable dominance routines.
PRIORITIZE is another commonly used word. As used here it suggests that the authors believe statements about Great Power Competition can be ranked as correct, less correct, and wrong, and as a given that there must be winner, as if Washington can only juggle one ball at a time. There can be ties and even bundles of good ideas. I will write about "multiple working hypotheses" fairly soon. Suffice it to say, the best policy taken will have back doors and sometimes multiple front doors to avoid getting trapped in, say, a "domino theory" or "containment." The authors need to pound out the deep background to their position more thoroughly, so that their understanding of the new foreign policy is not bogged down at every turn by explaining the psychology of PTSD among veterans and layed-off workers. The three parties to the alliance are not nearby neighbors to one another, but more deeply—to the great chagrin of the authors—the new pact smacks of Bismarck, Tallyrand, Kissinger, and every other person whose fundamental belief is that inevitably nations will resort to war to achieve the goals of some few or a slender majority of their constituents.
At the theoretical heart of the author's endeavor is the expression CONTEST FOR MILITARY AND POLITICAL DOMINANCE, used to define what they believe is the gut essence of the recently popular terminology: "great power competition (GPC)," supposedly a refined school of thought in international relations. First, I think it is salutary that these authors left out the ECONOMIC and the FINANCIAL/MONTETARY domains. There are four different domains of thought relevant to this situation where, remember, the US has been dominant in all four in the region since, yes, the Spanish American War and across the entire world since WWII. Leaving these two+ domains out, is crucially wrong. It must be said that GPC is meant to detach policy toward great powers from the more run of the mill policies via-a-vis not-great powers, acknowledging that one shoe does not fit France and Italy and Turkey equally, especially since one has nukes.
In the east-Asian / western-Pacific region, logistics and sheer proprinquity now strongly favor China, but their ability to take advantage of these in any of the four domains is, of course, problematic and always uncertain. So, the AUKUS defense pact is both regional and obviously global. President Obama had to give up the Trans-Pacific (Trade) Partnership (Agreement) for the lack of domestic agreement (see WASHINGTON and IT, above). The idea is not dead, you should know, but the loss of the airbase and naval base in the Philippines, caused by the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and ensuing inept policy and diplomacy, was extremely serious and had to be responsibly accounted for and replacement achieved. That, military bases, is the regional strategic part of the alliance and the essence of this move by President Biden (and his closer advisors). Yes, military bases are hammers seeking nails, but for now they are necessary, given current asymmetries of policy around the world and especially in east Asia.
The notion of PIVOT emerged with the Spanish-American War, but has been more salient since the US found itself involved in a two ocean war in 1941. The concept is that old and recognizes that there may have been some in the military and in the relevant administrations who could not easily hold two ideas in their heads at the same time. The authors are misusing the term, but are acknowledging publicly that Biden has achieved at least part of the replacement of lost Philippine assets issue, but it—PIVOT— misleads the public into thinking Asia dropped off Washington's agendas after the Vietnam War. In a wound-licking sense, yes, but clearly the TransPacTradeAgreement, years in the attempt, was all about Asia, and, oh yes, the Seventh Fleet has been out there at considerable expense all the while. So this so-called "pivoting" comment recalls the walk and chew gum analogy, as if our interest in NATO is somehow less because of AUKUS. Not so. At the granularity of individuals in various DC departments and offices, there is always a flux of expertise and focus.
There is so much more to criticize about this article, but we need to arrive with the current evidence at the realization that some people, including the authors, believe the American public will only understand US foreign policy in terms and concepts that they were taught many decades ago in our high schools. In general the authors have the right idea that we must be much smarter in foreign affairs than we were in the 20th century. Foreign policy cannot remain hostage to the former division of labor in Washington. The most important US foreign policy in the 20th century, it should be remembered, was the Marshall Plan, and if you look at it carefully you will see all four of the domains of thought and activity brought together about as well as any large project since, well, since Ghengis Khan decided to conquer the EurAsian land mass!
My meta-analysis of the article and the fact that the NYTimes published it is this: the article is not (yet) a seminal work that will guide US foreign policy, but it does raise issues that will surely deserve treatment later on. The Times Editorial Board probably understands this very well.
(War and Peace, Foreign Affairs)
Post Scripts: (1) For those who would appreciate a fictional, but bluntly realistic, background to the AUKUS saga, I recommend the Netflix series "Pine Gap"
(2) In Quora Paul Hannah writes that "Australia’s current submarine fleet consists of these boats. This is a Collins Class submarine. It was built in Adelaide. It is quite a good submarine, if you don’t mind all the things that go wrong on it, the cost blowing your budget and our limited construction capability.
"For a submarine to be any good, it needs all of its functions to work well. It needs to sense what is around, be able to attack threats but above all it needs to be quiet.
"The first two eventually came good with the Collins, but the third never did. Diesels are noisy machines and if your enemy can hear your sub, it can kill it.
"Buying nuclear powered subs from people who make lots of them solves all these problems. Plus it makes you very good friends with a couple of the big players in the game and in the defence realm, having very good friends is a very useful thing."
In America we have storms and fires that displace people from their homes. These people number in the thousands sometimes, but rarely. The number of refugees from the Syrian Civil War no longer in Syria is 4.6 million human beings, and on top of that there are 6.6 million children and their parents displaced within Syria, half are children, most are hungry, thousands are starving to death. This Davide Monteleone photograph from National Geographic online of one child seeking refuge who stares from northern Greece into a future not yet accessible in Macedonia riveted me. She is vulnerable and in this picture she is alone. One hopes there are parents or relatives nearby to protect her, but we do not know. She is brave ... now ... but what will be her fate? I try to see our world as she must see it, but as normal as this picture portrays her, you know she is frightened and that her prospects are not good. She wonders why it is so difficult to live on this planet.
Do you remember the controversy about whether the U.S. or its allies in Europe should become engaged in this war? France was in early, Iran has a client relationship with President Assad of Syria and is implicated in the stresses that promoted the rebellion and war in the first place. The controversy in America was lucid for a moment and then turned toward soundbytes about WMD and heinous, hideous activities by Assad and his supporters. As we came to the conclusion that anyone would be better than Assad — clearly only a pious hope in a muddle of complex tribal and religious nightmares — did we for one moment consider this child and millions like her? Did we gear up our better selves to deal with the aftermath, the midmath, the general math of civilians in wars?
It is not too late to do something. Go online and find one of the relief agencies and contribute $100, right now!
It also is not too late to bring into focus the more important issue that the world's singular super-power must acknowledge. Military operations produce horrors and we are responsible for those horrors. I am saying, yes, sometimes we must go in and kill the deranged bastards, but we must also take full responsibility for the damage to innocent people we do.
It is not without purpose that we begin this new year (and the last year of the first decade of the 21st century ... please) with an article about nuclear weapons. I mean this as something of a wake-up call. President Obama understands the unreality of the policies undergirding the present nuclear strategy, and so the question is whether he will have the moxie and clout to actually make a serious change to those policies ... with so many macho generals and admirals defending the status quo ... for lack of imagination or for too vivid imaginations.
The Boston Globe has a good, interesting article on this in the Sunday edition. I am amazed, for instance, to learn that our planet-destroying capability is still aimed at Russia. I do not doubt for a moment that theirs is aimed at us and China ... and clearly this sort of thing MUST change.
When you took stock of the world the other night, as 2009 was passing into oblivion and history, did you notice any place on the planet that really needs to be bombed by us with nuclear weapons? ... especially if we adopt a new policy of "No First Use" from here on out? Yes, one thinks of deep underground Iranian nuclear facilities and perhaps a situation developing in Pakistan that we just cannot tolerate, but seriously nuclear weapons are for 99.99% of all military situations just way too much muscle and way too much political fallout.
Now to tell the Air Force generals that their mission is not what they though it was and to tell the Navy admirals that they need to pare down the boomers by at least half. This could get sweaty!
This short video provides some hope that what we are doing in Afghanistan has the potential for good. Notice the vocabulary relating to the Afghans.
12/13/09Called Our Bluff
As Maureen Dowd explains in her Sunday column Bob Gates was the messenger when Obama's bluff was called by Afghan "President" Hamid Karzai this week. This was not widely reported in the news, but it should have been. The words spoken at West Point just days ago, barely, have been mooted. The "Plan" is already defunct. It may be that Karzai is defunct as well, but it will make little difference. If the U.S. strategy is to continue to "go around" Karzai, the fact that he is a corrupt prophet of doom diminishes what he said. But, folks, Karzai knows the lay of the land in Afghanistan and he is correct: eighteen months of U.S. support is laughable and twenty or thirty years worth is the only hope for these beleaguered people. Sell that on Main Street, Gates, Obama!
12/11/09President Obama's Nobel Speech
This speech does not have the ring of the pulpit or the brashness of the stump, but it has a complex structure and message worthy of thinking men and women everywhere.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:
12/2/09The Afghan Conundrum
On the evening of December 1, 2009, President Barack Obama spoke to the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the nation, and the world about the commitment of 30,000 American troops to the struggle in Afghanistan. It was, as Rachel Maddow recognized, not at all a flowery, slogan wielding, poetic speech. It was matter of fact and contain enumerated lists of reasons and participants, and expected outcomes. It was not meant (I believe) to convince or to sway or cajole anyone. It was a complex answer to scores of questions where positions have already been staked out and defended with various degrees of certitude and skepticism.
We, the Americans and our allies from NATO and our partners from Afghanistan and our partners in Pakistan, are to find and destroy as much of al Qaeda as can be found and destroyed. We are to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and, hopefully, in Pakistan, understanding that the Afghans believe Taliban are essentially Afghans and so deserve an opportunity to relinquish their arms and to commit themselves to defending their country against those who will not. The first task is essentially military; the second is jointly military and civilian. The overall goal is to leave Afghanistan in a position to take its fate into its own hands and to become a nation, rather than a failed state.
The overarching goal is to bring stability to Pakistan, which possesses nuclear arms, a stability that will prevent any of these weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists like al Qaeda, terrorists that have promised to use such weapons when they get them.
President Obama spoke in a way that had a "military precision" to his words. Yet, there was a counter-factual conditional sense to virtually everything he said about our aims. It is as if he were speaking to a corps of teachers and saying, go forth until sometime in 2011 and teach the Afghans how to be a nation. Give report cards, keep the administration fully apprised of what the conditions are on the ground and then, if all goes well, we will leave Afghanistan on its own, but if not, we will have done what we could, but we must attend to our own economic wounds and woes at home ... understanding that terrorism has not been thwarted.
General McChrystal has his work cut out. He has to perform and the students have to learn, and if not, McChrystal will have failed and the students will have failed, will have surrendered their homeland to terrorists and/or the Taliban, whose close relationship with terrorists is a world threat. In other words, President Obama's plan is to give McChrystal and NATO about a year and a half to win the hearts and the minds of Afghanistan ... a nation notable primarily for being illiterate (fewer than 10% can read), a nation notable equally for being corrupt, a nation dependent on the sale of opium for ready cash, a nation which is really just an assemblage of warlords, peasants, ethnic rivalries, and bitter war-weary Islamic people.
Given all that, Obama really is saying that we have about a year and a half to come up with a better solutions, solutions that will be distasteful to Pakistan in all likelihood, solutions that involve both Russia and China and India and Saudi Arabia and maybe even neighboring Iran. This is so because the final threat of Afghanistan and nuclear Pakistan is world-wide terrorism on a scale that the world cannot abide.
The world has left much of this battle up to America, the recipient of the 9/11 attack and, therefore, the most aggrieved of all countries this decade. It is unlikely that radical groups will give up terrorism as a tool for imposing their will on others, for instilling democracy-destroying fear among the peoples of the world. So, the stage is set. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has her work cut out for her, and the result had better be a more realistic solution set than was presented Tuesday evening.
On this Veterans Day Tom Englehardt, of TomDispatch a feature of The Nation magazine, writes about Predator drones and their cousins on the drawing boards of the M-I Complex. This is an excellent treatise on the relationship of our militarized society to technology, including, btw, a strong undercurrent of the jingo arrogance that propels common citizens into a sense of righteousness when these things are discussed. Enjoy!