Defense

Putin’s Revanchist Crimean Gamble After Sochi

Putin Attacks Ukraine

Revanchist
1. an advocate or supporter of a political policy of revanche, especially in order to seek vengeance for a previous military defeat.
adjective
2. of or pertaining to a political policy of revanche;
3. of or pertaining to revanchists or revanchism.

Sometime between February 21st and February 22nd, Vladimir Putin decided to violate the settled international order. By all evidence, like Andropov and Ustinov over Afghanistan in Dec. 1979, his rump war cabinet was insular: FSB Chairman Bortnikov, Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov and very few others.

He started a war of aggression on Ukraine and against the Western international system. He chose war for both internal and external reasons. He gambles that he can improvise more skillfully than Western coalitions. Any Western pressure he judges will not be much or last long. He can also use pressure for internal consolidation ala his speech denouncing internal opposition as a “5th column”. So far his assumptions aren’t markedly off.

Why War, Why Now?

Ukraine’s Maidan in February 2013 toppled a key pillar of Putin’s foreign policy, luring Ukraine into his orbit with $15 billion in loans. Maidan also halted Putin’s effort to transform Ukrainian President Yanukovich into a Putinist authoritarian.

Far worse, however, was Maidan’s challenge to Putin’s domestic legitimacy. Berkut and Yanukovich’s rout ignited a firestorm in Russian state media. Soon Russians began circulating images of burning tires in Russian cities on the Internet as pro-Maidan support. Maidan’s power over Russian imagination can be seen in how Russian FSB/GRU troops and ‘militas’ ritually and deliberately re-enacted Maidan’s iconic imagery in reverse. Putin’s regime largely rests on controlling Russian media and its messaging. Crushing Maidan’s narrative became a matter of perceived regime survival, and remained the Alpha and Omega for initial invasion AgitProp goals.

Putin did act impulsively. He used an off the shelf plan to seize Crimea that almost certainly was a long standing Russian contingency should Ukraine ever join NATO. He deliberately excluded his Ministry (Minister) of Foreign Affairs. Later he famously refused to take Lavrov’s phone call from London. Tactical impulsiveness doesn’t mean Putin lacks a long term conceptual goal. Putin does have an ideology which he’s promoted within ruling circles by assigning specific books to read. When Angela Merkle and Madeleine Albright say “Putin lives in his own world” what they’re saying is “Putin isn’t following our own preconceptions”. It’s an alarming lack of understanding.

What Does Putin Want?

Putin’s goal is to rebuild a Slavic civilization as equal and eventually dominant opponent to the West. His rejection isn’t merely post-Soviet bitterness but as spiritual and racial superior. Perhaps fanciful. He promotes murky (even incoherent) Slavic ideologies drenched in mysticism. Collectively, they are a mishmash and do not spell out a coherent strategic plan. Yet that pastiche arguably forms a generalized North Star under which he improvises or makes isolated tactical decisions. His self-pitying speeches about Russia’s past slights and grievances he writes himself. They’re from the heart. They’re also manipulative red meat for his new nationalism.

Western leaders don’t grasp that Putin’s aims are beyond just ‘re-inventing the Soviet Union’ with his Custom’s Union. His long term ambition is far more profound from his point of view. His proposed Union “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” – in his own words – repeats Slavic ideologues’ calls for a Slavic Eurasia “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. *He’s* not talking about a EU 2.0 even if he knows others will think so. Here’s an English version of the vision from Dugin, a Putin-favored Slavic ideologue.

Putin’s public rejection of the West in Crimea may have been premature. But that was always his intent. True, he talks often about BRICs as an alternative geopolitical home. Or even just China. These tactical adjustments always support the longer term goal of civilizational independence and rejecting the West.

The West mistakes what he does for what he is. For example, many who’ve dealt with him in purely transactional terms proclaim he’s a pragmatist. Others assert he’s merely profoundly cynical. Putin and his then-new propaganda chief Volodin in 2012 concocted a ersatz nationalism seen in today’s Russian chauvinism, new patriotism and racism. Many interpret it all as a ploy to crush domestic dissent after protests greeted his 2012 re-election. Or to distract Russians from the economic circumstances. Both may be true and still miss the larger point. Putin’s 2012 return marked a broad range of personnel changes and programs that align with his long term renewal concept. Sometimes ‘good’ politics also coincides with good policy (from his point of view).

Then again, Russians misrepresent Putin, too. Journalist Anton Krasovsky:

“People say that Putin doesn’t care what the west thinks; that’s nonsense. He does care, and he doesn’t understand the hatred towards him from the West, which he feels has no basis. In Sochi, he organised what he saw as an incredible Olympics and people still criticised him for it. It’s partly a generational and civilisational thing. He wishes he could go back to the era when he could just drink wine and have fun with Berlusconi. He just doesn’t understand why people criticise him so much.

We assert his specific actions should be evaluated within the above framework. Many mock Sochi as economically nonsensical. For Putin, revitalizing Russian nationalism on a global scale and wedding it to him is priceless. Sochi was always about Russian self-esteem. The international audiences being props for the acting out. Crimea and what is to come are further extensions. His domestic approval ratings authentically may be almost 80%.

History shows that revanchist regimes are unusually popular while successful. And remain so while the regime can point to further successes or threats. The psychology of grievance and its relief forge strong ties between ruled and ruler. The Corporal only began to lose public support in 1943. In April 1945 estimates are that 10% of the population still proclaimed allegiance. Others elsewhere had longer runs. The Soviet regime continued for a decade after Brezhnev’s ‘era of stagnation’ became undeniable.

Will Putin manufacture more conflict? Not necessarily. He hopes the West caves early and returns to business as usual. Should we deploy a new containment, he will test it with provocations and overtures. His challenge then is managing discontent should economic sluggishness endure. Putin’s family suffered tragedy during Leningrad’s siege. He and others will believe Russian capacity to endure privation far greater than the West’s.

Sanctions won’t convince Putin to change course. He will use Western pressure to strengthen his domestic position. Putin has already demonstrated he believes the Russian economy is subordinate to his goals. Some regime figures call for using Western sanctions as pretext to assist the State to direct re-building non-existent domestic manufacturing. (At best, a modern oligarchical corrupt NEP). Foreign pressure also assists cracking down on potentially independent actors, whether oligarchs with foreign exposure or what’s left of the so-called ‘liberal opposition’. Putin’s invasion bought him substantial but not infinite time to weather Russia’s from 1.2% economic growth – or lower.

Now consider the conceptual gap among Obama, the West and Putin. Who’s surprised Putin ignored Obama and Kerry’s public “off ramp” offerings?

Who’s To Blame? And What’s Next?

Mistakes were made by all sides: Europe, Kiev, Moscow and the U.S. Their magnitude unforeseen because parties did not fully grasp the agenda and priorities of the other.

The EU Americans generally don’t understand the EU well. We tend to confuse the Brussels permanent apparat or European Parliament with the actual member country governments. For years Brussels’ EU bureaucracy pursued their imperative for EU expansion via meetings, agreements and other symbolic formalities. As the EU moved farther East it seemed its actions were unconnected with actual member country support. Ukraine underscores the disconnect. Many member countries opposed Ukrainian overtures or key players like Germany indifferent. The EU merely flirted with a nation of blatant core Russian interest and sensitivities.

In November 2013, the EU and Ukraine’s then-President Yanukovich met to sign a Partnership Agreement in Vilnius. His signature was to culminate years of laborious conversations. Yanukovich promised Ukrainians many times he would sign. He balked at the last minute. The EU, lacking focused member state support, couldn’t offer Yanukovich or Ukraine, a failed State, anything tangible – no money, no aid. Just words and sentiment.

Putin by contrast offered Kiev $15 billion in hard cash loans and gas discounts. Contingent on Yanukovich walking away in Vilnius. Putin played traditional hard ball politics and won “cleanly” by putting his wallet where his mouth was. When Yanukovich walked, outraged students flocked to Kiev in protest and ignited Maidan’s drama.

Europeans were as surprised as anyone by Maiden and Ukrainian protesters’ EU flags and face paint. (Who wears EU flags in Europe?) The EU and Europe didn’t understand flirtation with Ukraine could have such consequences. The EU belatedly promised 11 billion euro to Kiev after Putin invaded. Had it done so at Vilnius almost everything since would have been different. The EU’s suitability or even competence as a geo-political actor must be in fundamental question.

Moscow Russian mistakes are less understandable even before invasion. Beating the EU for Yanukovich’s allegiance a classic game of Great Power politics. Yet Maidan surprised Moscow, too. Russian FSB and SVR penetration of Ukraine’s institutions deep. Millions of Russians and Ukrainians are intermarried, watch each others television and even the languages are not far apart. Yet Moscow completely misread the volatile political situation. Worse, Moscow continued to rely on Yanukovich to execute its ill-fated Maidan crackdown – even when his unsuitability (from Moscow’s point of view) obvious to all.

Sochi’s revelries and obligations doubtlessly hampered Putin’s focus. What intelligence and MFA reports made it back to Moscow accurately? Did Putin received timely warnings? Ukraine showcases a strategic failure of the Russian intelligence product cycle. Failure could be in collection, analysis or users’ misuse or disregard. We suspect it was the later two. Primakov years ago conceded that Soviet and then Russian intelligence lacked any meaningful independent analytical function. Soviet ideology precluded independent voices. He vowed to build it. Given the inclusion of FSB Chairman Bortnikov in Putin’s war cabinet, access to Putin isn’t the issue. If “Putin doesn’t have all the informaton”, Primakov’s diagnosis remains true under Putin’s nationalism, too.

In the end, Putin chose impulsive attack. Could he have waited? Ukraine 2004, Libya, Egypt, etc. show that bottom-driven protest movements rarely succeed as actual governing forces. Movements usually disintegrate or become corrupt themselves. Had he waited for Maidan’s likely collapse, this “rational” Putin could have renewed the $15 billion pledge as Big Brother savior. Putin would gain all of Ukraine. If Maidan unexpectedly formed a working government, the ‘rational’ Putin still could have waited. He would encourage Ukraine to have soft ties to West, clarify no NATO, and wait for the EU to bail out Kiev and modernize her economy. When she was rebuilt, he could have then courted a healthier and better run Kiev.

Such a ‘rational’ calculus suggests Putin won’t likely attack Southeastern Ukraine or the East. Regardless how the scenario plays out (including a full Ukraine occupation, etc.) Putin ironically would be the one putting NATO on his borders.

He couldn’t wait. As we noted. Maidan’s overthrow of a neighboring authoritarian regime too threatening to his domestic position. Regarding further operations in Ukraine, the jury is out. He’s still evaluating Western responses. Putin the improviser doesn’t believe he’s met strong Western resistance yet. Plus, the West should not underestimate the emotional, cultural and ideological factors underscoring uniting Ukrainians, including Kiev’s role as ‘cradle’ to and origin for Rus (modern Russia). We don’t think he will try a full scale assault on Kiev because the Russian army is in poor operational shape (Crimea a GRU Spetnaz and FSB operation mostly). More likely he will probe or push more limited objectives like a land bridge to Crimea.

Putin temporarily set back his own goal of Slavic unification. Kiev renounced participating in his Customs Union. As of today – Crimea is Putin’s strategic defeat. Euphorics in Moscow compare Crimea to victory in Berlin. Yet that mood will not last forever. Putin the improviser will be looking for ways to win back Kiev and turn defeat into victory. The West should support Ukraine as a geopolitical glacis with deep, visible economic and other assistance (modulating IMF obsession with clinical austerity). An enduring pro-Western, reformed Kiev (not necessarily in NATO) will be a monument to Putin’s impulsiveness. And a model for future Russians to see and embrace.

Ukraine Yanukovich’s mistakes are well documented.

U.S. Again we see the “lead from behind” problem. The U.S. misjudged encouraging the EU as Western proxy flirt with Kiev. First, as noted, because of EU foreign policy competence issues. Secondly, the U.S. accurately perceived years ago its visibility would provoke Moscow. That should have been a wake up call about the policy’s essential soundness. Initial U.S. visibility might have triggered tensions or even a crisis with Moscow at the outset. Or shut the venture down. That early clarity at a smaller and manageable scale far better than stumbling into war.

The U.S. response should be on two levels. Russia isn’t a Soviet Union superpower. Russia’s own military experts’ believe power projection is limited to ‘local conflicts’. Regional and global operations are not options for now. The economy isn’t a major world player beyond natural resources. And Russia lacks a global, universal ideological appeal like the Soviets. Russia’s threat doesn’t warrant a second world-wide American Cold War militarization.

We need a new kind of containment. It will be more complicated than before. Russia is more integrated in European economies than 1947-1991. Ideologically, we need to be blunt about his authoritarian regime and expose its corruption. We need to re-affirm commitment to liberal democracy as a superior society even with our obvious room for improvements. We should avoid the temptation to allow Putin to define our agenda and distract from larger U.S. global priorities or opportunities. Joining Putin in his dark Manichean agenda a mistake.

Economically, sanctions are fine for initial salvos. They will not force a change in behavior. But over time they will bite. Overt, immediate economic assistance to Ukraine is essential. Ukrainians must see benefit rejecting Putinism even if work and sacrifice are required to reach them. Other countries in Eastern Europe need assistance as well. Specific, tangible economic assistance is the best inoculation against Russian adventurism. Lessening European energy dependence of Russian gas is a test of resolve. Canceling the South Stream Russian gas pipeline would be a clear first signal signal.

Militarily, increased, visible U.S. and NATO presence in Eastern Europe should begin yesterday. There is no need to return to Cold War force levels, aggressiveness and associated tensions. The U.S. also should encourage regional military cross ties among countries in Eastern Europe. We believe reconsidering BMD in Europe is appropriate as well.

NATO also should re-evaluate doctrine and force posture to address Russian interior lines of communication and maskirovka. NATO chain of command must be reformed to allow swift operational response. This would allow NATO to counter Russian ability to alter ground truth before coalitions like NATO can react. Russian invasions in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and now Crimea illustrate how much importance Russians place on their faster decision cycle.

Likely Just Round One

We believe this is a new protracted conflict. Putin will probe Western reaction and coalition cohesion with new tests and provocations but not necessarily immediately. Putin and Russia signaled disdain for the settled international order in Crimea. Future actions will expand on this demarcation in new and especially psychological dimensions. Putin’s agenda will be tear down or damage the Western international position – or its perception.

Most actions won’t be military or even paramilitary. The West should expect Russia, for example, to seek BRIC alternatives to Western institutions. Chinese reluctance to embrace Putin in public on his challenge to Western international norms will likely change. Covert and overt cooperation should be expected. Other states will use tensions to further their own geostrategic purpurposes. Russia will look for strategic surprise or stage managed perceptions of creeping inevitability.

This really isn’t the Cold War again. In some ways it may be more difficult. Confronting revanchism in Europe is a challenge not seen for over 75 years. Pundits often use the word. It’s vital that its implications are truly absorbed.

Death Of An Ambassador – The U.S. In A Ring Of Fire

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues’ deaths in Libya and Egyptians storming embassy walls underscore the Arab Spring was always the Arab Decade. Both events also should give further pause to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) sentimentalists blithely calling for military action against Assad.

Middle East, Libya, Egypt, Chris Stevens

Focus On Each Country And Its Politics

Contrary to many media outlets, we’re not convinced the infamous anti-Mohammed YouTube video proximately caused the deaths and riots. We believe local politics and intrigues played the key roles and the video used as an excuse or cover; blaming a video helps create an easily understandable overarching explanatory narrative. Comforting but unhelpful.

For example, in Cairo a handful of long-standing militant Islamists protesting outside of the embassy for months took advantage of momentary confusion to climb the embassy walls and plant their black flag. The next day, the Egyptian government eventually restored order. That delay raises worrying signals about the new Egyptian government’s intent.

In Benghazi it increasingly looks like an armed faction opposed to liberal democratic process pre-planned a coordinated guerrilla assault with mortars, RPGs and artillery fire. That now famous YouTube video clip mocking Mohammed at most served as cover and distraction. Attackers knew routines and consulate layout. Contrary to Neocon claims Libyans dragged deceased Americans through the streets, U.S. officials report 10 Libyans died defending the consulate and others hand carried the U.S victims to the hospital.

If you’re reminded of Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s assassination in Iraq, the purposes are not too dissimilar. U.S. resolve is certainly being tested. We support engagement in Libya yet believe the American people – for many reasons – have not been told the time and commitment and risk of non-engagement.

Questions about Libya carry over to Syria, too. As we noted above, Syria is a separate ethnic, economic and political mosaic. Even if force of arms ala Libya could be made politically viable, operationally it’s no Libya as you know Dear Reader – logistically and militarily. “Assad must go”. Even more than Libya, and then what?

As we said at the outset, the Arab Spring is really the Arab Decade. Each nation will take that long to work out its political institutions and new traditions – and likely will arrive at different answers.

Romney’s Lehman Moment?

Not much needs to be said here about Romney’s bizarre partisan public responses. You’ve seen the coverage. Craven? Irresponsible? Sure. But that’s been his M.O. during the primaries and to date on a variety of issues. When expediency is one’s polestar, one can’t expect honoring the tradition of bi-partisanship in the face of national tragedy.

That’s what John Galt would do.

A Military Perceived As Possibly Losing Grip

You’ve probably noticed numerous military (or special operators) personnel acting out against Democrats and President Obama. Some are active duty, some are retired. All are leveraging their public-funded training and experience for partisan advantage.

Military Headaches Come In Threes?

The three most recent incidents are: (i) a group of low-ranking active duty military committing murder to further a scheme to assassinate the president; (ii) a former SEAL trying to publish a book on the UBL raid without submitting it for clearance; and (iii) that now well-known front group of former SEAL and special operators attacking Obama for the election. (Video h/t @Sam_Lowry_USA).

No one should deny anyone’s First Amendment rights if retired and in compliance with classification rules. Still, these examples risk creating the perception of the military as just another partisan special interest group. And it’s perceptions that are important here.

Senior military leadership have an opportunity to set or re-establish bright, emphatic lines of expected behavior. And communicate what’s permissible, even if unwelcome. In a healthy domestic political environment, much of that would be undertaken by both parties. What is crucial is that communication occurs.

We’re just entering the first phase of resource contraction for the military/intelligence/contractor community after unprecedented largesse. Severe domestic cuts are also likely, regardless of November’s results. The service chiefs need to look ahead.

The Military Benefits From Clarifying Bright Lines

Chairman JCS Dempsey’s statements that he’s “disappointed” by recent events and that they “don’t make my job any easier” are candid but only a tepid first step. Admiral McRaven’s reaction to the SEAL book, while adhering to an unwritten code of understatement, should be only the beginning in clarifying for the public what is or isn’t permissible activity. Especially after a year of ‘leaks’ being used as a partisan wedge issue.

Public trust is a crown jewel for the military but can be fragile. Internal military cultural signals, personnel shifts, etc. to address recent events won’t be enough. This isn’t about trying to clean house at Colorado Springs because of Evangelical excesses. A national stage is involved. Given the permeability of military culture with the civilian social networks, service chiefs can’t assume their cultural signals are axiomatically ascendant.

Conclusion

These three events occur amidst the long-standing civilian-military divide. We’ve devoted decades to following that matter and tried to focus attention in the 1990s. We spoke about it with the old Office of Force Transformation, NDU and elsewhere. Lots of smart people work the problem; solutions still elusive.

We’d be the first to argue that civilian inattention and indifference to obligations, commitments and cultures remains a large contributor to the gap. We see little sign of civilian leadership and culture changing focus soon. Work must be incremental in both directions. Yet the military is subordinate to our civilian society and must remain so.

All the more reason for the military to do its utmost to assure the public it remains apolitical. To be be perceived as such. Above all, we urge that when in doubt, err on the side of communicating where its control over personnel and their actions begins and ends.

Walt’s Top Ten Things To Prepare For Foreign Policy: A Missed Opportunity

Stephen Walt’s school season trend piece, Top 10 Things Would Be Foreign Policy Wonks Should Study (notice the meme-friendly Top 10ism) deserves a Gentleman’s C+/B-.

His list is safe. History? Check. Economics? And so on. Granted, Walt’s list is click bait for Volvo Moms and Dads driving Little Ones to a dorm for the first time. Walt still demonstrates after 2001-2011 that Realists aren’t about cadre-building or meme promotion.

Area Studies As Key For Foreign Policy

To be blunt, the American foreign policy field suffers from an acute and growing shortage of area specialists. At both undergraduate and graduate levels area studies sink further into eclipse. Abstraction permeates as ‘terrorism’ studies, ‘national security studies’ and yes, ‘foreign policy’ – even when seemingly rigorous with phony statistical analysis. Former Neocon militant romanticisms are temporarily quiescent. Yet their replacement as a dominant academic trend, for example, is the equally disassociated development theory. Area studies’ eclipse is particularly stark post-graduate.

Area studies’ empirical, granular focus on the specific was and remains the antidote for Neocon manipulated simplicities. One reason Neocons are so hostile to native language speakers, specific histories and facts in context. Indeed, to understand the Neocon war on what once was CIA (Soviets before, ‘terrorism’ 2001-2007) or the Foreign Service is to discover this truth.

Area studies is a relatively new concept in American foreign policy and academic thinking. For decades after WW II, American foreign policy cadres evolved from Euro-centric and British-derived experiences. Even Kissinger’s at-the-time novel Metternichian formulations a variation.

Area Studies, Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy

America began to invest in area studies really only beginning in the 1960s. Too late to impact the tragedy in Southeast Asia. Area studies briefly flourished. Even so, Americans prefer to substitute technology for area studies’ tedious discipline. Before it was FBIS (Foreign Broadcast Intercept Service), now it’s automated computer translation. George Schultz was probably the only Secretary of State to support and promote unreservedly area studies (given his Princeton and Stanford experiences).

The results? You know what happened in 2003-06. And later with Afghanistan, COIN and the bogus 3 Cups of Tea, for example.

Specific Quibbles With Walt’s List

Regarding Walt’s list, learning a foreign language is good discipline. Like playing a musical instrument. Languages develop memory and neural pathways. And any language creates linkages with another culture. As to which language? The romance languages are easiest but also least useful. Some languages are strategic and others aren’t.

Similarly, history without focus has little value. Unconnected with language and other studies, it’s utility for foreign policy is hit or miss. History does inculcate respect for facts. Yet, again, some history yields more returns than others. The last thing a job applicant and the Nation need is another forced march through McNeil’s “Rise of the West”.

‘Economics’ similarly on its own has only tenuous connection to foreign policy, empiricism or professional advancement. We agree that most foreign policy ‘wonks’ understand economics like a GOSPLAN apparatchik. So some quant work good training.

The key is again to seek comparative studies. To recognize that other non-Western prisms are effective, such as the initial and widely copied 1955-1989 Japanese phenomenon, the Soviet (for a time) and current German managed export-led growth.

Economics as taught in American schools is ideology cloaked by the trappings of rigorous empiricism. Aside from quant training, economics’ true value is placing Anglo-American ideology-cum-’science’ in perspective with other regions. One can then grasp the global implications. Comparative economics will reveal how others have succeeded in overtaking the American/British ideological fixations. So yes, learn macro and micro theory. It’s useful as a beginning. But to be useful for realism or foreign policy? More.

Conclusion

We understand Walt’s list was a toss off and possible troll bait. A conversation would likely develop quickly into nuance.

Similarly, our emphasis on area studies is perhaps addressed best at the post-graduate level. But our central point remains: a French-speaking (say Foreign Service level 2), European history major with a smattering of pareto-efficient economics and ‘counter-terrorism’ studies does little to advance their career, realism or what the Nation needs.

Freshmen and parents, listen to us. There’s always time in life to become generalists. The best ones have tactile and specific training.

Too harsh?

What’s So Funny About War, Budget Bloat And Nomenklatura Self-Interest?

DoD propaganda against the Budget Control Act’s sequester is remarkably shameless even for them. First, the ‘draconian’ cuts are anything but. They return DoD to Bush’s 2007 defense budget. DoD will get funded at the same level as at the height of a two-failed war bubble adjusted for inflation. Second, Obama (Romney?) ‘war’ outlays are specifically exempted. Sequester is not a ‘stab in the back’ to the ‘warfighter’(although it will be sold as such). Third, even if sequester is triggered this year, no budget cuts take effect until 2013 and can be postponed.

Sequester is an assault on DoD and its contractors’ privileged socio-economic position. Sure, debate will be framed in terms of ‘national security’. The truth? It’s about rice bowls, careers and status. And thus all the more fierce.

The DoD 2010 budget marked the apotheosis of American mindless spending on ‘national security’. So in that sense, returning to 2007 means a little over 10% cut. This reveals how Obama merely tinkered with Bush’s war economy.

Sequester Cuts Are Not Historically ‘Unprecedented’

What do 2007 budgets (adjusted for inflation) mean? Bush DoD budgets marked a 31% increase over Clinton outlays plus the additional, off-the-books outlays for the two-failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Panetta and company claim sequester will cut this or that favorite weapons program. Not actually true. Sequester specifically permits DoD to move moneys among accounts (which it already does anyway). Thus, DoD can make priority allocations within the double-war 2007 budget (adjusted for inflation) for programs, agencies, etc. DoD naturally doesn’t want to choose.

Should sequester happen, how ‘unprecedented’ are the cuts? Not very. After 1991, a bi-partisan consensus reduced DoD demands on the American economy by almost 35% from the Reagan years. Post-Vietnam saw not dissimilar ratios. Sequester would not match those levels.

The problem for DoD is that people represent its largest long term cost. And the Force is not going to change in size much. No cost savings there. Thus, the cuts have to come from elsewhere.

It’s All About The Broken Process Buying Broken Toys

What did grow under Bush/Obama is procurement, R&D and contractor outsourcing. (Along with global mission creep). Under Bush/Obama, procurement outlays are up almost 100% since 2000. Some went to immediate war theater needs. Much of it squandered by a broken (deliberately by industry collusion with Rummy) oversight and procurement process.

We wrote years ago here about the Pentagon’s scissors crisis for procurement (one example of many). Reagan-era platforms predictably were burned out through increased OPTEMPO. DoD failed to field generational replacements. You, Dear Reader, know about cost overruns re the F-22, the Army’s Future Combat System, or the absurd $1.5 trillion F-35. The broken procurement system is endemic.

Sequester might force two important policy objectives. One: DoD and its parasites must acknowledge they’re not immune to American economic circumstances. And two: DoD will have no choice but to get serious about acquisition reform and accept oversight with consequences. DoD and industry both want neither beyond superficial gestures.

DoD prefers that we all talk about specific weapons programs and missions. That debate is on their turf, their threats of district job loss, their slight of hand. Sadly, they’re likely to succeed.

12 years of Bush/Obama have so thoroughly militarized us and enshrined the false image of ‘warfighter’/national security apparatchik as untouchable, sanctified nobility. A rational conversation about American geostrategic commitments and interests, and allocation of resources accordingly is laughable.

Normally, a mature great power and healthy liberal democracy should avoid a sequester process. It’s a blunt instrument cost shifting congressional institutional failure into national security frameworks. From 1949-2000, civilians and the military in conversation resolved strategic footprints and their associated political economies with varying success. It’s our preferred process and the reason we initially opposed sequester.

You decide – America 2012 – how mature or healthy?

Tom Ricks On Bringing Back The Draft: Wrong Solution For The Wrong Problem

Tom Ricks’ short post argues we should bring back the draft. He’s wrong. Ricks’ major premise? Shy Meyer’s AVF failed as political trip-wire. The minor premise? Hence Iraq. Ergo, professional militaries make war more likely. So bring back the draft.

Draft, All Volunteer Force, Vietnam, Iraq

First, Ricks misinterprets the AVF’s structural function. The AVF actually worked as designed. Second, claiming a draft would’ve prevented Iraq is historically untrue. Drafts don’t necessarily increase political caution for war. Even in democracies. Compulsory national conscription – from the later stage French levee en masse on down allowed nations to jettison limited wars for mass conflict.

Some type of national service might be desirable. But for other reasons. Such as improving civil-military relationships and national cohesion. We’ve noted that for years here. Just not a draft.

You Asked For It, You Got It

Iraq happened because the American people wanted it. Full stop.

True, Cheney and company lied. (A future draft wouldn’t stop political mendacity). Remember Freedom Fries? Surrender monkeys? The Bloom Mobile? Firing Phil Donohue from MSNBC? The pornographic generals’ parade across cable? Those psychoses arose from fear – manipulated or not. Mass conscription can fan such contagions as much as contain them. It’s wrong to superimpose today’s mindset retroactively.

Take events in sequence. The 2001 Afghan campaign appeared painless. Special Forces on horseback calling in JDAMs. Plug ‘n play war. How many journalists like Ricks wrote about that, then?

Shinseki’s office and others offered quiet resistance beyond his famous testimony. But overall, the conventional military wanted in on GWOT. The Navy even fretted that the Army and Air Force would get all the glory (and funding). Flag rank officers complained to us at the time, seeking a piece of the ‘Away Game’ pie.

Rangel called for a draft during the run-up. Even then it was a cop out. Process alone wont compensate for lack of political will. It was unpopular to speak out against the war. A draft would’ve saved us from ourselves (and Cheney et al.) 2002-2003? Really?

Iraq’s real lesson is ‘win’ a war in 3-4 years. Marshall in 1945 doubted American willingness to field a *winning* conscript military beyond 5 years. Drafts serve to curtail a war’s duration, not its inception.

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Leviathan Seeks To Maintain Littoral Access In The Pacific Century

This month marks the formal de-embarking of 200 U.S. Marines to their new forward base in Darwin, Australia. The symbolic choice of the Marines, in a region still cognizant of their brutal triumphs half a century ago, and their new location are a political exclamation point emphasizing the reality of American strategic re-positioning. Negotiations are underway for heightened American military presence in the Philippines, too.

15-20 years over late. It’s a start.

China, Anti-Access, Area Denial, Power Projection

American allies remain dubious about her staying power. How will Asian priorities rank over time with endemic American self image as the status quo, global, NotSoBrightian ‘indispensible power’? Can you blame them? Wars with Iran or Syria will sink American Pacific engagement faster than a Long Lance torpedo – or Chinese hypersonic missile. Basing two new, smaller, brown water capable Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) out of Singapore also reverberates in historical memory. After all, the British sent the token force of Prince of Wales and Repulse to Singapore as well. All know how that turned out.

Aside from doubts about overall American ADD, two Asian concerns are American intellectual commitment and provisioning actual capabilities. A key American component of the strategic repositioning is the new meme of ‘Air-Sea Battle’.

It’s big think. Like its predecessor from the late 1970s-1980s, Air-Land Battle. That meme sought to re-invigorate American doctrine to engage successfully the Soviets with combined arms after 10 years squandered in the Mekong. Air-Sea Battle posits integrated naval, space and air power as key for agile power projection, jettisoning ponderous continental land campaigns.

It’s easy to see Air-Sea Battle as the 21st century update of Americans inventing amphibious warfare in the 1920s to address potential conflict with Japan. And in keeping with American amphibian nature. Geographic realities haven’t changed. Technology has. Integrating naval presence with ISR, space and air platforms is the new frontier. Asians will watch how Americans elaborate and build upon Air-Sea Battle for clues about our seriousness about the region.

Air-Sea Battle is custom made for Pacific applications and counterbalancing unfolding Chinese influence. The Chinese think of their military projection similar to the Japanese a century ago – based on circles of islands. The first circle, closest to Beijing, encompasses Taiwan as well as Japan. Securing this zone they believe will be possible within a decade. The second would envelop the Philippines and neutralizes Guam. The goal, of course, is not to have to fight the U.S. but deter it by regional anti-access fait accompli.

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What Exactly Does Civilian Control Over The Military Mean In A Demotic Age?

Movement intolerance for any individual or institution that breaks their role as obedient prop can be famously vindictive. Even a prop as sanctified and invested with hollow tropes as the U.S. military.

Witness Paul Ryan’s recent outburst against the services. Ryan bemoans that the military isn’t revolting against budget rollbacks from current record levels. Ryan denounces Pentagon budget proposals, saying:

“We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice,” Ryan said during a forum on the budget sponsored by the National Journal. “We don’t think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget.” [...] He went on to say that while there were certainly inefficiencies that could be reduced in the Pentagon’s budget, fighting wars in the Middle East and a “dangerous world” necessitated keeping defense spending level.

Ryan added that “What I believe is this budget does hollow out defense. I believe this budget goes beyond where we should go to keep people safe.”

In the inside baseball world of D.C. power, it’s easy to dismiss Ryan’s judgment. He doesn’t sit on a defense authorization/appropriations committee and has almost no granular expertise on defense postures, industrial base or commitments. But as Chairman of the Budget Committee, Ryan lurks at the aorta of Movement radicalism in the House and nationally. This distinguishes him from say, John Kasich, who tilted at windmills called the B-2 back in the day. Ryan’s stoking of Rightist rage against the domestic social contract while adding yet still more to the defense budget moves the political needle and thereby redefines the middle for the Goldilocks mindset. In the long run, control of political narrative wins, trumping objectively factual expertise almost every time. That’s the New Normal.

U.S. Military, Budget Crisis, Paul Ryan

Ryan’s political frustration is palpable: after a decade of trebled budgets, car window dohickeys and treacly Super Bowl rituals, the military now is going rogue? Ignoring the script of Obama’s menace to national security?

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dempsey doesn’t like being called a liar. And in a Twitterverse of 140 characters it would end here. Personality clash, with initial smack talk all shut down by Dempsey’s atomic knee drop. Booyah.

Except larger questions about civil-military relations remain. We speak not of Ryan’s clumsy attempt to suborn military insurrection. The U.S. military over the centuries has seen and rejected that gambit before.

Similarly, the military’s institutional memory remembers draw downs in the past – whether post 1945 (WWII), post 1953 (Korea), post 1975 (Nam) or post 1991 (Sovs). This is not their first rodeo. Bartering political trade offs and stunt posturing they leave to Leon Panetta, who is laboring mightily to earn his seat in the Building. The services know that across history, adopting a long term view in the face of budget rollbacks allowed them to emerge ultimately more capable later. It’s one reason the military internally is more realistic about the dangers of American fiscal (and social) implosion than professional politicians. Still, they’ll game the system in the here and now, too. They’re not idiots.

What makes 2012 qualitatively different is the pervasive abstraction of demotic America and her government. Never before has a military of this scale and capacity been subordinate to such an impulsive, consequence-free, meme-drenched polity. After all, ‘serious’ people actively pursued two new wars (Syria and Iran) and came damn close to getting at least one. Obama, just a year ago, unilaterally waged war against Libya on his own initiative, against military advice and without congressional penalty. That’s a precedent with unknown consequence.

Certainly earlier eras endured bitter partisan ideological differences, especially after 1975. Political institutions, however, retained their identity, sense of (constitutional) purpose and political coherence. Whether one agreed with Barry Goldwater on Taiwan or the Boland Amendment, separation of powers and checks and balances meant something. Today? Not so much.

People accept today that political institutions are almost notional and pro forma – mere backdrops for the ever malleable political narrative of The Moment. The U.S. military so far remains apart from the general meme-soaked dissolution. That’s not to say Tweets and burps aren’t present. But as the Marines demonstrated recently, discipline extends to Facebook, too. We think it a good decision. The services’ internal culture and discipline still makes them the most successful enrolling institutions beside the Catholic Church. They’re not immune to fads and internal meme stupors, of course – witness Colorado Springs, RDO, EBO, Warden, NetCentric Warfare, Wehrmacht-esque infatuation with operational success, etc. COIN, anyone?

It’s always a mistake to project linear change into the future. Still, one can’t help but dread the day civilian control over the military simply means ‘Likes’.

DoD On Jenny Craig With Fries On The Side

For all the talk about whether U.S. ‘defense cuts’ are insufficient or cataclysmic, almost all can agree finally the U.S. military enters the post 9/11 world. Overdue, but a good thing.

The political car wreck known as the August 2011 Budget Control Act mandated $487 billion in cuts mostly by reducing out year proposed DoD budget increases. DoD complied with a proposed budget that cut increases to avoid sequestration. Panetta’s Hill testimony argues for keeping things pretty much status quo. There are some losers and winners – especially C4ISR capability.

Defense budget, Defense Sector, Obama, Procurement

Panetta and DoD’s notional cuts are made possible by ‘cost savings’ via the hoary procurement stretch-out gambit, improved ‘processes’ and less spent on people. He even called on Congress to cut Medicare and raise taxes before touching defense.

He didn’t have a choice adopting this aggressive stance. As new SecDef he has only a CIA tour behind him. His first job is to secure the loyalty of the building and services. And he’s carrying their water well. His grip is still formative; the defense sector is in a panic. He knows what happened to Les Aspin. Or Rummy before 9/11. He won’t make their mistakes.

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Winding Down In Iraq Without Consequences

And so Obama completes another Bush Administration milestone. The formal withdrawal of American forces commences from Iraq — although the Obama Administration fought hard (and bungled negotiations) with the Iraqis to leave a residual force. A goal to which ‘serious’ people like Joe Lieberman and John McCain still cling.

Oddly, the Senators and CENTCOM may get their way even so. Iraqi domestic political opposition (which centered mostly about language in negotiations re legal jurisdiction over American troops and initiation of military activity) may require American troops to ‘leave’ before they are ‘invited’ back. So don’t be too surprised to see American contingents re-flow back to supplement the tens of thousands of contractors and other assorted flotsam and jetsam left behind. Like some kind of cruddy residue.

The ‘support our troops’ stickers in SUV windows are fewer now. The magnets tucked away. Many Americans possibly sense things are different because NCIS no longer features Iraq-related plots prominently. For several seasons now.

Those who lied the U.S. into war a war of aggression or continued to support those lies after exposure? They’ve collectively (nice word, that, no?) have paid little or no price. Many personalities are regulars on the cable TV circuit. Some churn out mind numbing books that like Speer and Posnan try to argue ‘they did not know’ (and weren’t there). It’s their good fortune that Iraq is already becoming the (second) ‘Forgotten War’.

Others are less fortunate. Some returning home will be shocked at the society they thought they were defending. Welcome to the 99%.