Defense

Putin’s Shambolic Improvisation In Ukraine

Beng Prepared Is Hard Work

Great artists know an essential truth about the road. Doing a one-off show is often harder than preparing for a lengthy tour, whether musically, theatrically or even politically. One date demands the same rehearsal time and need for clarity as a whole tour. That’s a lot to ask for one gig. Far easier to wing things, hoping that charisma’s momentum and spontaneity will carry the day. History’s detritus shows a vast landscape of tattered reputations from humbled musical legends to self-immolating political candidates.

War, unsurprisingly, isn’t much different. Consider Tommy Franks’ war plan (albeit with OSD and OVP intrusions) 2002-2003. Not only did he wing it, Franks did a two-for, abruptly bugging out and retiring in 2003 before his mistakes became devastatingly obvious. Adding Wolfowitz’ last minute failure with Turkey for a northern front and one gets the point. Conversely, much of the American success in the Pacific 1941-45 famously grew from significant planning and thinking about amphibious warfare campaigns dating back to the 1920s.

Germany 1935-45 is also an obvious choice although somewhat less than many think. It’s true that Germany lost the war on September 1, 1939. And German conceptual and economic preparations for an intercontinental war with the US are often ignored by the still British-dominated historiography and *those* cable channels. Germany’s 1936-37 economic crisis spurred radicalization and planning for a general war by 1943-45. What’s ignored is the regime’s longer vision in 1938 when the Four Year Plan and industrial base began alignment for the ‘inevitable’ world war with the US. The Corporal’s improvisations within this overall strategic concept doomed both.

Not everyone shirks planning and rehearsals even for a single gig. Led Zeppelin famously spent an entire month in 2007 rehearsing for a solitary 2 hour London show. Stung by ridicule after decades of calamitously unrehearsed ‘re-unions’, vanity demanded it.

So what to make of Putin’s War on Ukraine? We say it’s a one-off, and Vladimir Putin is no Led Zeppelin.

Putin, Russia, Rock, Empty Cabs, Russian Rock

Putin launched his attack on or about the night of February 22nd relying only on his closest advisors, meaning almost no one. Assurances from MFA/MID and other senior government officials at the time otherwise we attribute to being simply cut out. He invaded Crimea based on a war plan dating back to the late 1990s to secure the Black Seas Fleet. We completely reject spurious claims by non-specialists that a speech on the characteristics of emerging war by the General Staff in 2013 are a modern “Hossbach Memorandum” and prove Putin has been long planning a carefully considered war of aggression on Ukraine. Such allegations by casual observers and social media hype mongers misunderstand the culture, nature and purpose of General Staff discussions and Putin’s 2014 context.

Putin shares the Soviet/Great Russian prejudice that Ukraine is an unstructured cultural and ethnic ecumene. (“It’s not a country, George”). Yet his emotional volatility and impulsiveness triggered his war and continue still. Putin took no advance (even clandestine) measures to prepare the Russian economy, social sphere or even military force posture. Much of the GRU success in Crimea simply due to extensive local networks and the Ukrainians never fired a shot.

Maidan, Berkut’s rout, Yanukovich’s flight, and cascading Lenin statutes wounded his personal prestige. More seriously, Maidan’s an existential problem. Putin and his closet circle from the intelligence and security world all interpret spontaneity elsewhere as purposeful direction by others. Perversely, American general passivity re Ukraine post 2008 merely compounds the insistence that it’s an unseen, lurking controlling force – a Rumsfeldian “unknown unknown”.

Putin started lucky. He got Crimea and can now say he expanded Russia unlike Stolypin. And his agitprop at home inoculated against the Maidan. He paid no costs. Berlin, Paris & elsewhere “understood”. Granted, it was all a tragi-comical high school troupe re-enactment of a mini Koniggratz. But a win is a win. Look at Grenada.

Catch Me Now I’m Falling

Putin’s mistake was to continue. Even now he still isn’t sure how to to get out and keep face. But in his zigs and zags, he’s made progress, jettisoning some of the people who sparked his worst instincts.

He lost personal control in Donbass beginning in May. Russian fascist and orthodox activists ignored his explicit public wishes and directly criticized Putin personally in the media. Worse, these same Novorossiya ideologues were screwing up on the ground in the Donbass. Here we begin to see Putin looking for a way out of being in the passenger seat. Until then, Putin for a period genuinely seemed sensitive to pressure from his fascist, nationalist right. Eventually, their continued public personal disloyalty forced his hand. They were not part of his answer out but the problem.

Putin began to turn to loyalists like Surkov. Besides being a Kremlin grey cardinal of political manipulation, Surkov earlier served as an emissary to Ukraine. In this role, he vied with neo-fascist sympathizer ‘economist’ Glazyev. Glazyev, besides calling for destruction of the world dollar economy, is affiliated with the Izborsk Club, a gathering of nationalist and fascist personas and organizations.

Surkov could be counted on for discretion, following Putin’s personal interests and political savvy – he knows how to make deals. Glazyev is a blunt bulldozer. He makes Rogozin look like Warren Christopher. In parallel, the Kremlin began to break up the ultra-nationalist/fascist wedge. Well known Kirginyan, founder of the uber-nationalist “Essence of Time” movement (among the 20 plus neo-fascist groups in the Russian constellation), began aggressively combating National Unity, Dugin and a host of others over Novorossiya and the Donbass as a Putin cut out in public, in the media. The signal was clear. Putin’s improvisation continued.

Putin next purged a few senior security officials (in part for particulars, in part to send a signal). The Power Ministries? Firmly his. He also announced on national TV there would be no general purge of the so-called ‘Fifth Column” demanded by fascists/ultra-nationalists (Russian fascists have created a sixth and seventh, too, if you are counting). Many Western observers missed the importance of Putin’s brief comment, hungry for more sensational news to tweet.

Then it became time to clean the decks. First, Dugin was fired from his professor’s chair. His entire department at Moscow State University also purged of like-minded. Significantly, court jester Zhirinovsky took Dugin’s place in an exquisite demotion of Dugin twice over. Putin’s broom also swept the Donbass. Girkin and the whole Novorossiya lot recalled and now twist in a vague, quasi obscurity. The intended message? What happens in Donbass will be because the Kremlin made the call, not a bunch of atavistic re-enactors. Jury’s still out but with Russian military more or less open now, ignoring Putin becomes much less whimsical.

Finally, Putin pivots to an exit. He’s lined his ducks up. He’s no longer seeking to grab Ukraine like in April. He’ll settle for protracted negotiations. So Putin does two things. He basically yells to the West at Yalta in Crimea before his government and international journalists Russia seeks a unitary Ukraine, as an independent country, a cease fire and federalization. Zhirinovsky specifically sits on stage with Putin in the court jester role and trots out all of the fascist Novorossiya arguments comically, only to be cut off and put down by Putin. Putin goes so far as to roll his eyes in front of all several times. Putin rejected it all as a personal opinion but having nothing to do with official Russian policy. It is significant none of this was shown on TV but in front of international journalists.

Breaker, Breaker Do You Read Good Buddy?

Putin’s second step is building huge hype in Russia as a humanitarian hero. He’s beyond a war maker; he cares. The Kremlin polls and surveys more extensively than an American political campaign. He knows Russians don’t want body bags (Cargo 200) coming from Ukraine. Thus the genesis of the Potemkin Convoy for Russian TV. It was a great plan except Ukraine and the international community got a vote. Putin’s victory lap became an embarrassment as the convoy went nowhere and the trucks exposed as empty.

We said at the time the convoy’s mission was (i) PR optics for Russian domestic politics; (2) exfiltration of men, casualties, equipment & evidence; (3) a replay of Germany post May 1945 re seizure of capital plant. A little of all occurred, but with even Russian TV unable to hide the convoy’s lingering delay, Putin’s improvised hero moment escaped his grasp. Still, at this time, Ukraine’s ATO controlled Luhansk, most of the Donbass except for Donetsk and the pocket. Merkel, although criticized at the time, travelled to Kiev to caution about over extension.

Denied a hero role, Putin in sullen mood went to Minsk in August to meet Ukraine’s Poroshenko, Lukashenko (Belarus) and Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan). It was a car wreck. Putin offended the other presidents from his own Union. Tensions only grew. Poroshenko forgot the essential truth of Vladimir Putin: everything is personal. Unfortunately, Porosohenko and the Ukrainians acted as though the ATO was on the verge of victory. Games were played about whether a bilateral meeting would occur and when. The Poroshenko left to his embassy and gave an address, blowing off the planned wrap up session with all four presidents. Putin apparently took all of it as personal slights.

The next day the Russian army overtly entered Donbass without pretension and began the destruction of Ukrainian volunteers exposed and unsupported by the Ukrainian military. Luhansk fell and Poroshenko finally realizes the difference between an ATO and a competent military campaign. For domestic reasons, Putin put the Novorossiya label on it all. It not only quelled the voices calling for troops, but allowed Putin to claim Novorossiya for himself, personally.

Many in the West misunderstood Putin’s move post Minsk. This tactical move did not mean a wider offensive into Ukraine. (Mariupol was the first clue). Putin undermined his own PR by commenting he could take Kiev in 2 weeks if he wanted. The Russian language is complicated with subjunctives. Without hearing the conversation, our sense was that Putin’s alleged claim was in a explanatory boast – “Look, I’m standing were I am. Don’t you think if I wanted to take Kiev we couldn’t do it?” As with most Putin boasts, it rings hollow. Domestic Russian tolerance for casualties is already fraught. And of all peoples, the Russians should know that taking something and holding it are worlds apart.

So we are now actually where we were in Yalta, with Putin raising the chips of a ceasefire, dangling unitary Ukraine with federalization (Kiev rightly wants de-centralization) except Kiev controls far less of the Donbass, suffered casualties and has little prospect for changing ground truth in the next few years.

Putin’s New Style Of War Careens Off Course In Ukraine

Ukraine is dealing a strong setback to Putin’s allegedly novel model and doctrine of 21st century irregular war. Not because Ukrainian forces rout Russians and their allies in Ukraine and now control 2/3 of the Donbass.

Putin, Ukraine, ATO, Donetsk, Luhansk, MH17, War

Russia’s ‘new’ model of war escaped Moscow’s control. Putin understands it conceivably could evolve into a political threat inside Russia and even the faintest whispers of revolution. The regime could ignite war in Ukraine but not control its perceived domestic political impact on Putin’s authority.

We finally see the limits of Putin’s escalation. He will not risk even the perception of challenge to his authority. Of course, he still plays to win in Ukraine at some level. Ukraine will bear the brunt of his malice for years. And his global revanchism is unchanged.

Meanwhile, he refuses frantic demands in Moscow and from Russians fighting in Ukraine to commit formal Russian troops. Lavrov now calls for “a quick resolution” of the crisis. And Russian state controlled media is banishing Ukraine from the front pages of Komsomolskaya Pravda and changing tone, depicting Putin as face-saving “humanitarian” rather than war lord.

His personal, emotional obsession with revanchism remains. He still yearns to tear down the international order and gain his psychological revenge on Americans for the Soviet Union’s demise and his modest height (5′ 6″).

Putin is taking a walk because he no longer could control the nationalism and overt fascism he courted and stoked in through April 2014. Various ideologues surrounding Putin and their movements have always had more independence than most in the West understood.

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Russia Loses Again in Ukraine, Keeps Raising The Ante

Putin keeps gambling. His first, impulsive attack on Ukraine in February 2014 netted him Crimea and 80% approval ratings. He’s stumbled since.

Russia failed to replicate the unopposed Crimean takeover in Ukraine’s Southeast from March-April. Moscow then threatened formal army invasion. That only solidified an improbable Ukrainian nationalism, creating a prohibitive cost. Ukrainians’ vote for Europeanist President Porochenko is another blow. Yet Putin keeps doubling down on escalation, even if formal invasion isn’t on the table for now.

Putin and Russia Go Backwards

Nihilist Nostalgia

Putin’s goals lie beyond Ukraine. He seeks to alter fundamentally the global balance of power and pull down the liberal democratic order. It’s ambitious for a $2 trillion economy confronting a combined West of $32 trillion. Russia’s 2020 defense re-armament program tops $90 billion a year, against $1 trillion combined in the West.

Invading Ukraine in 2014 revealed Putin’s plans and techniques 5-7 years early. That’s the good news. Putin so far keeps testing his improvisation against a disorganized Western alliance. Why not keep doubling down?

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Ukraine At War Spring 2014

Putin‘s war of aggression in Eastern Ukraine failed its original purpose: to replicate Crimea’s easy capture and herald the so-called “Russian Spring.” Putun must now play for time and bank on his ability to improvise better than Western passivity and derail the May national elections.

Ukraine, Putin, Russia, Sloviansk

The initial operation featured 100 Spetsnaz GRU special forces officers leading pre-identified networks of pro-Moscow forces in Eastern Ukraine. Joined by Russian citizens (“tourists”) flooding into Ukraine, the FSB and GRU operatives used the social smart phone app Zello, Twitter and other means to direct and rally ‘spontaneous’ pro-Moscow support. GRU intercepted calls reveal they were taking direction from Moscow-based PR agencies.

Stage one was to seize key Eastern cities such as Kharkov, Donetsk and Luhansk like in Crimea. Once secured, the Russians planned to spread west and south, backed by the threat of Russian military forces across the border. The plan didn’t work.

Ukrainians surprised Moscow by their resistance or passivity. Despite Moscow offering up to $100 a day to join a pro-Russian protest, no crowd ever topped 4,000 anywhere – in cities with a million or more population. Most crowds were pitifully small. More disappointing to Russia, Yanukovich’s old Party of the Regions, the main political force in Eastern Ukraine, largely supported a unified Ukraine with conditions. Some oligarchs also played a double or triple game with their patronage networks and private militias. Local police frequently were bought off, but local populations still remained inert.

Moscow used the Geneva negotiations to buy time. The Crimea model failed. But Moscow lacked reliable local cadres to pretend to be the face of an ‘authentic’ Ukrainian protest against Kiev.

In the new strategy, the GRU no longer hid its hand. Russians operated openly after taking over government buildings in Sloviansk and Donetsk, etc. Moscow discarded its hoped for partner in the Party of Regions. Russia is recruiting and activating more radical elements in the East, Ukrainians (and transplanted Russians) who despise not only Kiev, but the entire kleptocracy of oligarchs, Party of Regions, local government, etc. Organized crime in the East is also a natural partner, preferring lawlessness and disorder to a successful Kiev stabilization.

This new approach is a revolutionary step. Moscow not only is rejecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity but its existing institutional base – from political parties to local governance. Even pro-Moscow figures such as Kharkov’s mayor Kernes are abused as traitors and enemies. Eventually Kernes was shot and denounced in pro-Russia social media. Moscow is trying to build a new mass, radical political movement on the fly.

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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.

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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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