NATO

Putin’s Shambolic Improvisation In Ukraine

Being Prepared Is Hard Work

Great artists know an essential truth about the road. Doing a one-off show is often harder than preparing a lengthy tour. True whether musically, theatrically or even politically. One date demands the same rehearsal time and clarity as a tour. 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 resulting 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. Jettisoning carefully prepared pre-existing plans, not only did he comparatively wing it, Franks did a two-for. He abruptly bugged out and retired in 2003 before 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 1942-45 famously grew from significant planning and thinking about amphibious warfare campaigns from the 1920s.

Germany 1935-45 also is a popular topic. Germany lost the improvised war on September 1, 1939. Yet German conceptual and economic preparations for an eventual intercontinental war with the US are often ignored by the still British-dominated historiography and certain cable channels. In the European context, Germany’s 1936-37 economic crisis spurred radicalization and thinking about a general war by 1943-45. Still, the Four Year Plan and industrial base began alignment in 1938 for the later ‘inevitable’ world war with the US. The Corporal’s improvisations within this vague overall strategic concept jump started events and doomed both.

Not everyone shirks planning and rehearsals. Even for a single gig. Led Zeppelin notoriously devoted an entire month in 2007 to rehearse a solitary 2 hour London show. Embarrassed after decades of calamitously unrehearsed ‘re-unions’, vanity demanded it.

So what 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

We know 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 meant nothing. He invaded Crimea based on a war plan dating back to the late 1990s to secure the Black Seas Fleet. We completely disagree with non-specialists who argue that a 2013 speech on the characteristics of emerging war by the General Staff is a modern “Hossbach Memorandum”, proving Putin long planned a carefully considered war of aggression on Ukraine. Such allegations by casual observers and social media hype usually misunderstand the culture, nature and purpose of General Staff discussions, planning and Putin’s 2014 context.

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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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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.

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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.