Foreign Policy

Play Russian Apologist Bingo!

We present to you “Russian Apologist Bingo!” Apologists for Russian aggression, lies and even lunatic screeds are everywhere. They will do about anything to defend Kremlin propaganda. From the infamous “Whataboutism” to change the subject or claiming that Ukrainian’s tried to shoot down Putin’s plane and hit MH 17 (never mind the fact Putin was in South America), all their greatest hits are hit. Play, won’t you?

Russia, Bingo, Propaganda

Can you spot all the Kremlin apologists’ tricks?

Nixon And The Dog Days Of August

Nixon is back, haunting every August as usual. This year he fights the centennial of the Great War for media mindshare. It’s an uneven match. Americans emerged almost unscathed from the first European civil war.

Relentless Pat Buchanan cuts and pastes his annual apologia. He reminds us:

Then he [Nixon] succeeded where liberalism’s best and brightest had failed. He ended the Vietnam War with honor, brought all our troops and POWs home, opened up China, negotiated historic arms agreements with Moscow, ended the draft, desegregated southern schools, enacted the 18-year-old vote, created the EPA, OSHA and National Cancer Institute.

Another reminder of how far we’ve come. The Nixon Center/National Interest can’t resist agreeing, too. Just attempting any of Nixon’s acts would galvanize the Movement to start impeachment calls. John McCain today would be against freeing John McCain.

Most striking? Nixon remained an internationalist realist even as America turned inward, indeed to his last day. Nixon advocated his views in both policy and practical political terms.

We’re certain Nixon would be baffled by Obama’s passive acceptance of the political status quo as setting limits on himself and the country. Nixon understood presidents are above all political actors. To lead they must engage political means to achieve their ends – beyond empty rhetoric. (We speak of his legal actions).

Obama believes politics is about judging others and declaiming rational choices. His job is to explain them, often as scold. Societies, however, require politics to address and somehow give meaning to the irrational as well. Aristotle understood we are all political animals.

His comments about Russia could be about anything:

But Obama says, quote, “people don’t always act rationally.” He says sometimes people don’t act based on their own interests.

True, the Movement after 2010 essentially destroyed functioning government beyond even the 1973-77 era. Obama’s passivity is a major causal factor there, too. We all together warned here in 2009-10 about the then embryonic Movement. We explained how Obama should act to co-opt, marginalize or impede it in early 2009.

The Obama White House publicly mocked the Movement, doing nothing, politically. And the Movement seized Congress and ended his presidency.

Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam

Obama sees the world as defining his limits, and thus ours. Successful presidents use politics to change the world and elevate us. Obama’s ISIL airstrike address this week merely another version of his earlier West Point address fiasco. At West Point, he may be the first modern president to “subtweet” his critics so passive aggressively.

Our Obama critique unfortunately remains true since 2007. He seems small today because he abdicated most of what makes a successful president.

In this sense, Obama is the anti-Nixon. And that’s not a compliment.

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.

By early May, Russia faced major strategic decisions about escalation, politics, potentially non-trivial sanctions and end games. A focal point – upcoming Ukrainian elections. Seeking to forestall the West, Putin agreed there would be no independent referendum by the so-called Donetsk Peoples’ Republic.

Russian nationalists and fascists howled at Putin’s betrayal. This tweet about an intercepted call from a Russian fascist is just one small glimpse.

Russian Fascist Outrage

Russian fascists ignored Putin. Further intercepted calls revealed them colluding together with Chechen warlord Kadyrov and Duma representatives to stage appearances on Russian television to force Putin’s hand, including demands to introduce the GRU-backed Chechen Vostok Battalion troops.

Despite Putin’s international assurances, Russian ultra-nationalists and fascists held their absurd and comically flawed referendum anyway. Putin faced the worst of all worlds: embarrassment. Was he in control? If so, why was he ignored? If he was in charge by lying internationally, why did he bungle the referendum? If he wasn’t in charge, who is?

Putin’s improvisation continued to falter as Ukraine normalized through elections and international recognition. Her anti-terror operation (ATO) began to gain traction in late May and June against separatists despite ill-considered truces.

Putin saw his domestic position notionally deteriorate still further. Dugin, for example, openly questioned whether Putin would ascend to holy “Sovereign” (mystical claptrap) and invade Ukraine or follow internal traitors, hesitate, and diminish merely as Lt. Colonel Putin.

Disappointed Russian ultra-nationalists and fascists grew in number and overt challenge to Putin personally. Others blamed Girkin, self-appointed Russian military leader in Ukraine, for retreating from the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk. Dugin blamed Russia’s losing on a “6th Column” in Moscow. These pro-Putin officials apparently hate Russia. The general anti-Putin sentiment simmering and potentially growing.

Battle of Bodies

Putin agreed to allow the Chechens’ Vostok Battalion to enter Donetsk eventually. But he held back the Russian Army itself. Surprisingly, the Ukrainians shot up the elite Vostok Battalion around the Donestk airport. Moscow refused to acknowledge the numerous dead or the unexpected defeat.

Nationalists in Donetsk resorted to working with the hated independent media to document the bodies sent back to Russia in refrigerated trucks. Putinist media, print and television, denied coverage or images.

Nationalists wanted to use video and images of the casualties to spark further escalation and incite racial hatred. The Putin regime’s news blackout left them isolated and furious. Perversely, Russian fascists and ultra-nationalists resorted to using Russian opposition newspapers and liberal Echo Moskvyi radio/web site to show Russians harrowing pictures of the Vostok deceased.

Matters only got worse. Furious that Putin equivocated and refused to invade Ukraine fully, Russians independently began fund raising for Novorossiya, Girkin and Russian irregulars via their Live Journal webpages, etc. One outraged Russian ultra-nationalist whose page was closed for fundraising created the Twitter hashtag #введивойскасука [send in the troops, bitch (Putin)].

Monies raised from such efforts would be minimal. Politically, however, this step represents absolutely forbidden self-organization that could threaten the regime. After 2012 if not before, Putin views NGOs or other non-state organizations as mostly illegitimate, if not illegal foreign agents. Moscow can not allow nationalists to self-organize on the Internet and fund-raise using popular emotionalism while criticizing Putin.

Putin lost control of his own narrative. His AgitProp of hate created self-empowered actors. Consider these tweets from the head of Russia Today. They only hint at the 24 hour a day, non-stop hate storm Putin puked on the willing Russian people.

Armenian Russia Today Kremlin Shill


Which shows the limits of Putin’s alleged new model of war. Once nationalist race rage is ignited, the only truly safe political course is continued escalation. Blowback can’t be controlled on this blunt scale. Moscow is so worried about blowback Russian border guards are reportedly shooting Russians and their allies trying to flee Ukraine back into Russia.

Putin’s revanchism and his role assigned to Ukraine will play out over years. As of this writing, however, Russia’s Ukraine campaign must rank a net strategic failure.

In some ways, Ukraine represented the best environment to test Russia’s war fighting. Russian failure — to date — is noteworthy because Moscow assaulted a particularly fragile state. Ukrainian national identity even before Maidan was tenuous. Ukrainians historically never shared Russian imperial fantasies and related resentments.

If by February 2014, Ukraine largely was a failed state politically and economically, she is unified now with an electoral political legitimacy beyond Russian aspirations. Ukraine receives more economic, technical and military aid than before. Ukrainians also boast a new ethos and sense of self, with a deep hostility to Russia. Russia pulled off a trifecta of fail.

The GRU and FSB took on a tiny, ill-equpped army never prepared for operations in the east against an assumed friend, Russia. Kiev’s army still lacks basic equipment because of corruption, cronyism and Russian penetration. Likewise, the Russians began this campaign largely owning Ukraine’s intelligence service, the SBU. It still must be regarded as compromised.

Russians also could exploit uniquely deep linguistic, cultural and business ties across Ukraine, especially in the East. Russia’s chosen venue for Novorossiya and war, the Donbass region, historically has been mafia-directed/crime ridden, governed by a local oligarch, not Kiev, and the home turf of Putin crony, deposed former president Yanukovich.

And yet, as of early July, Putin and Russia are in retreat. And they feel it. Russians can be expected to study events of February-July 2014 for lessons learned. We’ll offer some thoughts on that in the future. The Baltics can expect a different look based on the stumble in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s struggle for independence and reform is just beginning. Putin and Russia’s necessity to subvert and ruin her progress is existential: a prosperous Ukraine following even moderately in Poland’s steps is a permanent rebuke to Putinism and Russia herself. Apart from Russian revanchist fantasies.

Tactically, Russians and their allies control still the major cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in the South East. Moscow has many tools besides gas as economic levers. Russia is already hyping the dislocation costs of reform and adhering to European standards for useful resentment. Ukraine also remains the only economical way for Moscow to supply Crimea. Each day will be a test of Ukraine’s will and sovereignty.

Newly elected Ukrainian President Poroshenko can look forward to a challenging tenure. Our challenge? Putin’s revanchist war likely will last decades.

UPDATE: Putin convened a Kremlin Security Council meeting on Sovereign And Territorial Defense. He rejected calls from Ultra-nationalists and Fascists for purges and radicalization, stating Russia could defend herself against US and NATO schemes, without them. He also ignored calls for formal military escalation in Ukraine.

Pro-Novorossiya nationalists and fascists condemned Putin immediately as weak. Some mocked Putin as lesser than a Soviet restorationist but just a mere merchant.

Meanwhile, fascist and neo-fascist Russian entities are back vigorously trying to fund-raise for Girkin et al. in Donbas as the ATO finally begins to close the pocket. See, e.g., (Russian) Note the call to ‘entrepreneurs’ in the defense sector to donate military equipment.

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.

Russia is having difficulties. The new model still depends on direct Russian control. The new political facades of local ‘separatists’ follow orders. For example, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk, takes orders from a Russian officer from Crimea, “Strelkov”. Strelkov, identified as 44 year old GRU reserve officer Igor Girkin, was a principal military advisor in seizing Crimea. He entered Ukraine on February 26, 2014. Gurkin/Strelkov has been caught ordering Ponomarev, to dispose bodies of a murdered local council man who supported Ukraine and a young college student. A third corpse has been found in the same location. For his part, Gurkin/Strelkov now boasts to media that over 50% of his forces are from Russia.

Still, Russia needs more time. It must consolidate actual control of a few key cities beyond a few government buildings. Government and media buildings will allow Moscow to frustrate the May national referendum. But real work remains to create on the fly its above-mentioned new mass nihilist movement.


Ukrainian efforts to dislodge Russian efforts to improvise and consolidate their position in the East alarm Moscow. Russia understands their fragile hold – controlling a few buildings in cities of several hundred thousand or million. Russia threatens military to intimidate Kiev into abandoning their ragged “anti-terror operations”. Moscow also seeks to humiliate and demoralize Ukrainian SBU and MVD troops as well.

We don’t believe Moscow wants to invade Ukraine. First, the 40,000 troops on the border are the bulk of her rapid deployment force. Since their formation several years ago, they were designed to intervene, ‘win’ and leave – initially for post American Central Asia. The Russians have little or no training in occupation. Second, the force density required to secure Eastern Ukraine is easily 300-400% greater than 40,000, and would be there in combat or occupation for a sustained period of time. And finally, Moscow does not have the logistics and troop rotation to keep that force on the Ukrainian border at a permanent high operational tempo.

On the other hand, Ukrainian capacity to plan, deploy and execute operations is clearly very poor. Some of that is due to penetration by the Russians. Estimates are that over 30% of Ukraine’s SBU security services were on Moscow’s payroll. The MVD and military’s limits are also similarly clear. Local police are almost totally unreliable, bought off by the Russians, local oligarchs or intimidated.

While calls to arm Ukraine strike an emotional chord with some in the West, their fundamental institutional problems won’t be solved by new weapons. In fact, the weapons would likely end up in Moscow’s hands. Intelligence sharing poses the same problem. Plus, besides technical and overhead means, we don’t have alot to offer. Brennan’s visit to Kiev we believe driven by the fact CIA (and others) is essentially blind (or scrambling to become less blind).

Ukraine and Moscow are in a race to reconstitute a reliable political and military force to claim the East. They are both improvising. The Russians are learning. It remains to be seen how Kiev acts on the lessons learned to date.

2014 And Limits Of New Romanticism

2014 And The New Romantics

We’re witnessing another New Romantic historical moment end. We see it wind down in domestic American politics, including L’Affaire Snowden. And in Kiev’s Streets. We turn our gaze from Syrian killing fields. Spontaneous, unorganized mass sentiment failed to create real change anywhere.

1848 Europe’s revolutionary, democratic moment and its lessons come to mind. Europe saw its widest ever democratic revolutionary wave quickly collapse into a Continental reactionary resurgence. Historical analogies should always be suspect, especially here. Yet, we can’t help but ask, “What comes next, now?”

The New Romantics Aren’t A Pop Group

Our last 15 years constitute a Romantic Moment. First it flourished with the Colored Revolutions’ early promise. Even elements of Americans’ manipulated arc in Iraq and Afghanistan floated on misguided sentiment. Mass sentiment erupted in Tehran, ignited the Arab Spring, Syria, rock both Thailand and now Ukraine, again. Obama’s improbable 2008 presidency and aftermath are part of the tableau, too.


Europe, Russia & Ukraine: Stumbling Waltz

Europe, Russia & Ukraine: Stumbling Waltz

Ukraine, much in the news, is essentially a failed (failing?) state. Yet everyone wants to have a dance with her. Who will be on the card?

The EU still seeks an association agreement after Ukrainian President Yanukovich’s last minute rejection at the altar. He faced severe Russian coercion and is inherently pre-disposed to Moscow and Putin’s neo-Soviet “Customs Union”. After pro-EU riots broke out in Kiev, the Russians declared it all pre-planned foreign manipulation.

Ukraine’s economy is a wreck. Its contraction during the 2008-09 global economic crisis the highest percent in the world. Its leading export is commodity steel. Yanukovich’s government has no love for economic reforms as demanded by the IMF as a precondition to financial support. Ukraine’s government is almost as dysfunctional as Washington. Yanukovich’s political position in parliament hangs by a thread. Demographically, Ukraine is also a quasi-basket case.


NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

One of NSA Director Keith Alexander’s cruelest feats? Forcing some of his fiercest critics (us) again to defend American self-interest and the role and purpose of intelligence. Despite NSA’s (and the Community’s) wanton, flagrant contempt for both. If Neocons were America’s malignant Id at her moment of apogee, then as Nemesis follows Hubris, they ushered in her over soon decline. NSA and the Community, engorged on national security self-entitlement, scuttled behind as ever-present shadow.

We get no pleasure writing that. Nor seeing so much needless and perhaps irretrievable ruin in Snowden’s aftermath. Much of it gleefully celebrated by those who care nothing for American interests, privacy or otherwise. It takes a big man to bring down an epoch in American and global history, they say. So why are Alexander and Snowden perfectly, coevally so small?

Crushed Like A Spent Can Of Diet Coke

The seemingly ancient preceding post here about Obama’s first NSA-focused press conference reads quaintly now. We see in stark relief the cost of this Administration’s (typical) passivity. That’s not to excuse or diminish NSA’s stunning, profoundly stupid (and so totally unnecessary) transgressive acts. But we all should be clear about one distinction – intolerance for NSA’s transgressions is not embracing others’ attempt to exploit political fallout to see America diminished.


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.

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.


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?

Obama Tries To Weave A Strategic Narrative: But Did He Check The Feng Shui?

Listening to the chattering classes, a paramount challenge for U.S. strategy is ‘the lack of a narrative.’ What is to go after ‘Once upon a time . . .’?

Obama tries his hand declaring by fiat ‘we have turned the page’ from whatever 2001-2011 was. (Report here). Apparently, winding down two land wars allowed him to glimpse the U.S. would seek agility with inevitable force re-sizing. Who knew? Conveniently forgotten is that DoD now has more contractors in *Afghanistan* than uniformed personnel anyway.

At its core the Stiftung finds the report, well, Goldilocks. Compared to competing camps and their ‘narratives’. Its cardinal achievement? To begin re-focusing institutional U.S. geostrategic fixation on Europe and re-align it to the Pacific Rim, alas 20 years too late.

U.S. Shifts Strategic Focus To China

This PR exercise is also less than it seems. Most of the hard questions about mission re-definement made real through procurement? Punted. A defense budget and alleged cuts, etc. are always gamed not what they seem. Obama claims he will start cutting $480 billion over the next ten years. First, reductions in future rates of growth are not reductions at all. Second, given the (malfunctioning) annual budget authorization and appropriations process, projecting beyond 3 years is to party with Charlie Sheen. The Stiftung has long-supported a two-year budget appropriation cycle but people on the Hill prefer the one year approach for narrow self-interested political reasons.

A Few Trillion And Soon You’re Talking Real Chinese Tax Payer Money

The current Obama FY defense budget is over $708 billion. That is over double the FY 2001 outlay of $316 billion. (And for those counting, pure top line defense industry profit – the net of the net profit in 2011 was over $25 billion according to SEC filings. That is a 400% increase since 2001).

Let’s put everything in context: the U.S. since 2001 spent $ 4trillion on defense *and* a further $1.4 trillion fighting actual wars. The latter costs were kept ‘off budget’ in so-called ‘emergency’ war supplementals. (Don’t blame just Cheney, et al, a Democratic Senate went along). Remember that when you see frowns about ‘dangerous’ cuts, etc.

Substantively, the apparent fantasy is that U.S. power projection will be light and fast, with drones, JSOC and CONUS-based kinetic strike. The need for littoral heavy footprints and consequent force protection and SLOCs, etc? Gone. Booyah!

It’s a convenient day dream. Littoral access just about anywhere along the so-called Crescent of Crisis will be contested if not denied, whether Iran, Korea, the ASEAN region, etc. The pivot from Europe (so-called) is two decades over due. The Army presence there a hang-over from 1949 and 1991. So some down-sizing inevitable anyway. The Marines, by the way are themselves seeking a smaller force. They want to go back to being both elite and focused on their unique mission. Stationing a token presence in Australia a geopolitical signal Asians will understand.

You’d be excused for wondering how the U.S. forgets its own Asian Lost Weekend. It deployed unprecedented kinetic violence, body counts and Special Forces and eventually sent GROPOS ashore at Danang. The internal logic of escalation dominance (irrational to an objective outside observer) and all that. How’d that work out?

According to Obama’s document the U.S. will not repeat Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. You see, Obama has invented ‘partial-pregnancy’. We will assert U.S. global superiority but not with onshore footprint of large combat forces. We will intervene and help domestic entities but won’t get ‘dragged in.’ Apparently it is the geo-political equivalent of the Rhythm Method. We don’t need to worry about logistics or CSAR because, well, because. While a drone base has a smaller footprint than a F-22/F-35 capable runway, bladders, hangers, etc. the report doesn’t deal with the future of Jedi Knights sitting in cockpits.

Overall, it’s a B. Leaving Europe and realizing the future will be in Asia notable achievements given endemic superficial U.S. strategic planning. A few rice bowls got nudged. Most of all Obama cynically kicked the can down the road after the elections for the details and real turf fights. Because you just know how well Obama does when he’s fresh off a victory. It’s bank, man.


Appropos of absolutely nothing, but offered as a public service. What history suppressed. And now can be revealed.

Strategic Conference, U.S. President, Soviet Union, British Empire