NATO

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.

Political Theater In America

Another season of political packaging is upon us. If 1968 gave us “The Selling of the President”, 42 years on both the product and its marketing are on a baroque trajectory. Personality products and manufactured controversies peddled as disposable morsels. Many are happy with the synthetic diet of Potemkin public politics – as long as the us vs. them game continues.

It’s hard to see how meaningful political action could arise from the current political apparatus. It’s too far gone in technical decadence, when self awareness of the ‘how’ transcends the quaint notion of the ‘why’. And above all, there’s money. The current dysfunction of politics and institutions still provides useful cover for interest group zeal.

There’s many a conversation to be had about how we got here, what can be done, such as campaign finance reform, etc. We’re skeptical that internal reform is possible. In an ideal outcome, one or both of the major political parties would recover sufficiently to re-engage in effective political pluralism. The other trajectory, which we’ve all discussed here, is Man on A White Horse.

With this in mind we watched the recent Chicago demonstrations for signs of effective public theater. How strong would their voices be? Political theater requires first a stage, then an audience and some kind of narrative. Two out of three isn’t good enough.

In fairness to the protestors, Obama moved the G-8 Summit to Camp David. Organizers elected to protest with NATO as backstop instead. Close to Dada in a way. OWS, housing, gender, and social reform groups protesting NATO? At least NATO bureaucrats and many hangers on got an inflated sense of relevance.

A consequence not considered by protest organizers, apparently, is that an audience to political theater determines its effectiveness, not the actors. Ill-conceived protests can boomerang and actually bestow (undeserved) legitimacy on the target. Something they would do well to consider before the upcoming conventions.

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.

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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

Khaddafi And The American Dream Of Relevance

So he’s finally gone. We understand the Libyan joy. The American Twitterati and cable news pushing gruesome photos and the like? Not so much.

At 9:00 AM this morning ‘experts’ on cable already proclaimed today’s events proof of the ‘Libyan Model’ for handling other regional struggles, whether Yemen or Uganda. American airpower and C4ISR [if necessary insert NATO as delivery platform cut out] with a few special forces on the ground (SAS, French, DO/JSOC, etc.) would allow local peoples to *look like* they toppled their regime. They get the credit, dictator X is gone, and as Joe Scarborough said, “the people cheer America and wave American flags. That’s the important part.”

Khaddafi Killed, NATO, Airstrikes, Libyan Civil War, The Libyan Model

American fixation applying yesterday’s events to tomorrow is — as you know – a long standing, proud tradition. One could be part of a family called ‘Stop the Spirit of Zossen’ and even, you know, spend years talking about it together. Today, just to pick a pundit at random, Robin Wright intoned (without irony) how the above Libyan Model might be applied in the future. Remember in Spring and Summer of 2002 those who wanted to apply “the Afghanistan Model” to drain the swamp and impose regime change? Almost the exact same words: American airpower (JDAM and Daisy Cutters new to the pop lexicon), special forces and indigenous troops would avoid another Vietnam. All the rage, in Time magazine, etc. And that was when the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Times and a congressional hearing actually meant something.

More

NATO In Libya: Half-Assed Is As Half-Assed Does

How risible to see “the World’s Most Powerful Military Alliance” [sic] trumpet the accidental routing of a fourth rate tribal regime after months of literally pounding sand. Libya exposed NATO for what it is: a fig leaf on American Chinese-injected military steroids. Opening American bombardment aside, American logistics and C4ISR knitted together NATO’s random bombing of various tents, hovels and the odd tank or two while the Roadrunner Khaddaffi scampered away to release more Sheen-esque videos.

As we predicted, it took boots on the ground to change things. SAS from the UK et les autres rescued the disintegrating Western Libyan uprising, beginning with Misrata. Make no mistake. “NATO” airpower eventually proved capable (having exhausted its target set). But this overlong campaign is in Tripoli now because of [unacknowledged] boots on the ground. Moreover, this direct insertion of combat troops to effect ‘regime change’ was and remains contrary to the humanitarian UN authorizing resolution. Today’s “triumph” is premised on a fiction.

It’s also amusing to see the Usual Suspects rush to embrace Obama’s ‘vision’. Domestically, one can only call Obama’s Libya muddle symptomatic of the man. His unilateral assertion of war making power? Dick Cheney dared not go that far. Obama’s disdain for the War Powers Act? Trumped only by Harold Koh’s sophistry that as precedent will haunt us all in the future.

As for NATO, Obama’s Chauncey Gardner routine leaves it in limbo, too. America ratified the concept of conditional participation – something perversely Americans spent decades arguing Europeans should not do when reluctant to meet their alliance burdens. (Let’s not forget Turkey and Germany). Now that the U.S. has torn a hole in that tissue, it can only put NATO’s dubious value in stark relief. To the extent that “the World’s Most Powerful Military Alliance” exerted its will on some sand and tribes across the Med, today’s events give Brussels some ‘mo. It shouldn’t last. As we’ve long argued, the Germans are on top, the Russians definitely out, and thus no reason to keep insolvent Americans in.

Liberation of Tripoli, Special Forces, SAS, NATO, Khaddaffi, Misrata, Benghazi, Obama

As Tommy Franks taught the world in 2003, overthrowing a tin pot dictator often is the easy part. Some already — like the estimable Max Boot — call for a NATO stabilization force on the ground. Or that “the Libyan model” (WTF?) should be applied to Syria. Liberal interventionism dies harder than a Neocon PowerPoint slide in Herzliya. Obama lacks the capital, real and political, to do something really stupid. For once the Goldilocks Principle cuts in America’s favor.

It’s Time

What Walt says and we’ve said ad nauseum here before. In his heart Gates knows it’s over, too. May it be quick.

“One possible future. From your point of view… I don’t know tech stuff.”

Welcome to another Stiftung Comic, this ‘ish, “NATO STRIKES!”

The Secret Behind Sarkozy’s Mania To Attack Libya

The comic issue begins with the fateful decision to bomb Libya. . .

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Obama declares his firm decision that he will bomb and attack Libya, but no boots will ever touch Libyan soil. The U.S. military follows its orders to the letter . . .

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But even the best military plans go awry . . .

U.S. Wages A Clueless War Over Libya

[After finally unlocking WH:] “Mission creep? No one *ever* utters those words. Tell Carney to use ‘saving more lives’ if he wants to keep the job.”

Even as other nations begin taking a larger role in the international air assault mission in Libya, the Pentagon is considering adding Air Force gunships and other attack aircraft that are better suited for tangling with Libyan ground forces in contested urban areas like Misrata, a senior Pentagon official said Friday.

Gortney [JCS staff director], however, said there has been no reduction in the number of American planes participating. In fact, he said the Pentagon was considering bringing in side-firing AC-130 gunships, helicopters and armed drone aircraft that could challenge Libyan ground forces that threaten civilians in cities like Misrata. The U.S. has avoided attacking in cities thus far out of fear that civilians could be killed or injured. AC-130 gunships, which operate at night at low altitude, can attack with unusual precision.>

Meanwhile, this is what we fight for:

As the transition to NATO command and control of the military operation proceeds, the administration has still not made a decision about recognizing the Benghazi-based Libyan opposition council as the legitimate government of the country. The U.S. closed its embassy in Tripoli in February but has not broken diplomatic relations with the Gadhafi regime.

Gene Cretz, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who has been reaching out to opposition figures, said the administration was still not entirely certain about the identities and intentions of the transitional council, although he said they had made positive statements about their goals and plans to respect human rights.

“I think they’re off to a good start,” he told reporters at the State Department. “That’s not to say that we know everything about them; we don’t. We have to be very careful about who might be included in the future and how they go about forming a government, if in fact they have that opportunity.”

Muammar Don’t Surf . . . Sir!

It’s hard to see America today and not feel somewhat disassociated. Not in the twitchy Upper West Side sort of way, but as we all experience when a loved one needs help, cries out for help, yet in the end must be cut off. For that loved one must want to change before help can have meaning.

We must face facts and surrender illusions. Iraq, Bush, the whole tapestry was not the aberration we believed. We mean in the sense of chronic American inability to approach international challenges in pursuit of a concrete strategic outcome. Since 1980 spastic force unleashed by feeling and emotion, doubly irrational, is the norm. 1991 is the exception.

Why? We all know, of course, the coffee table paradigms dusted off 2001-2008 – liberal international humanitarianism, Jacksonian impulses, Neocon cynicism, multi-lateral institutional inertia, etc. Those labels, however, are merely descriptive rather than explanatory. Consider:

Western leaders acknowledged, though, that beyond the immediate United Nations authorization to protect Libyan civilians there was no clear endgame, because it was uncertain that even military strikes will force Colonel Qaddafi from power. Many of the leaders in Paris have called for Colonel Qaddafi to quit, and it may be that military intervention leads to negotiations with the opposition for the colonel and his family to go — or, at the least, buys time for the rebels to regroup. (emphasis added)

Force blindly deployed without clear rationale or strategic political objective. This after the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. We don’t need Graham Allison to grasp that internal U.S. bureaucratic models are only partially helpful. Ultimately organizational process is even less satisfying than the paradigms, supra. Personalities make a difference, true; people are policy. Consider that we arrive at the same outcome despite diverse voices as Bill Clinton, Not-So-Bright, Bill Cohen/Wesley Clark, Cheney, W., Rummy et. al., the Boy King, HRC and retinue.

Details and public rationales (lies) varied. The underlying consistency? U.S. inability to control compulsive shortsighted kinetic twitching.

We’ve discussed here together at length the military’s congenital failure as well. The Army’s fetishization of Wehrmacht operational art and the concomitant inability to formulate doctrine sufficient to achieve strategic victory conditions is just the most recent permutation. Russell Weigley’s magisterial The American Way of War traces the phenomenon back to the Civil War and before. The Air Force is no different. The comparatively tiny Marines stand out uniquely – from the invention of amphibious warfare and island hopping in the 1920s to Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Global Military Reach At The Mercy Of Trending Tweets?

Welcome to the new normal. American fundamental capacity for developing and subsequent implementation of strategic thought is depleted. Too bold? More than that, we submit that those pursuits are actively punished, mocked and disregarded by ‘the market.’ Can anyone who knew Bob Osgood, Nitze, even (ack) Zbig, etc., the CFR and FA when they meant something, doubt it? Max Boot as Senior Fellow? Beinart? Look at Condi’s pathetic NSC. Obama’s not a big step up. ‘Experts’ are only what the chyrons tell us.

Is it their fault? Beginning with cable, satellite and now the Net time as a linear concept simply vanished. Digital is binary, 1s and 0, no in betweens. Strategic thought above all takes time.

Our blind, unthinking embrace of ever-tightening micro news cycles, likes, trending tweets, page views and links is a collective pithing. Policy is necessarily reactive to ephemera of heat, noise and intensity. What would happen if Charlie Sheen took an interest in foreign affairs?

We’re not churning cant blaming the Net. But it does identify our most pressing question: how to cultivate and deploy societal strategic perspectives in this environment? We don’t have a ready answer.

Put it another way – would Nixonger be possible today? Plumbers are a quaint notion when ‘unnamed senior White House officials’, Congress, all of them leak, tweet and call cable producers. A multi-year secret diplomacy climaxed with a covert trip to China via Pakistan, etc. is laughable. Kissinger would be caught by a camera phone and put on TMZ at the get go.

Now add WikiLeaks to that environment with institutional blood vendettas everywhere. The Good Old Days are always rosy in hindsight. The Sovs used to complain that their biggest problem with Americans is they don’t’ know what they want. Similar symptoms under the thumb of three networks, the Grey Lady, AM radio and The Phone Company. Kissinger observed even then government service burned up years of thinking in mere months.

We used to say often over at STSOZ 1.0 the American tragedy might well be we learn how to think about power in fully realized, purposeful terms only when we lose it.

Max Boot And Company Lament British Realism

The days of British military power appear to be ending” Max Boot lamented in the Wall Street Journal. Another columnist at The Economist weighed in that Great Britain is at best managing its “relative decline

That was likely not the reception that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government was hoping their new National Security Strategy would receive from such traditionally conservative outlets when it was released Oct. 18. Coupled with the Security and Comprehensive Spending Review released days later, the critics worried that these documents were merely written justifications of the end of Britain’s military footprint in the world.

Yet it is odd that a conservative government was lashed by fellow travelers for the very reason of making strategic decisions based on realism. That is, the security strategy, titled “A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty,” can be read as a realistic blueprint for tough times, reflecting the priorities of a new government — chastened by what it says is the overreaching of its predecessors, but which nonetheless continues to endorse a global role for the U.K.

Even more, the documents may have some lessons for leaders on the other side of the Trans-Atlantic “special relationship.” As Cameron noted, “We have inherited a defense and security structure that is woefully unsuitable for the world we live in today. We are determined to learn from those mistakes, and make the changes needed.” Cameron’s statement was more than just putting a brave face on grim news. It was an illustration of what a government sometimes has to do when facing tough circumstances. And, given current circumstances and trends for the U.S., the British document may well provide some inkling for how an American president and defense secretary, Democratic or Republican, will likely respond in 2013 and beyond as the U.S. wrestles with its own “age of austerity” (emphasis added).

The rest.