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).
Putting 10 malfunctioning telephone poles [sic] in the ground to appease Warsaw and a radar in Czecho despite local public opposition never made strategic military sense. The hair brained scheme was an important lynch pin for the Neocon’s imperial fantasy. First BMD in Eastern Europe. Then roll back along the former Soviet Near Abroad. Followed by ‘lilypads’ across Central Asia. For a few years as a political construct it worked. The Imperial idea fell apart. Then economic collapse buried it in a heap of hopeless debt. Today’s decision to dynamite this anachronistic AgitProp artifact is a political double plus good regardless of motivations.
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We almost never recycle art here. Largely because it is more fun to make new stuff. But this one of Joe from last Fall came to mind reading his stream of consciousness ramblings from his trip around the Russian periphery. (You can set the density of spew in the box and then ‘explode!’)
When CIA-apologist/water boy David Ignatius ran a July column arguing Russia was so weak that America held the transcendent hand in future negotiations we said nothing; better not dignify his AgitProp with additional meme circulation. A futile gesture. Like the swine flu, bad WaPo memes continue to circulate and mutate.
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To Paraphrase Dean Wermer, ‘Lazy, Violent And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through Life’ (Let Alone Steal It From The Innocent)
Leon gets a scrub tomorrow . . .
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[Scene One -- 'Presidential Elect Suite', Kahala Hotel & Resort, Hawaii]
[INT. HOTEL ROOM OVERLOOKING OCEAN, DARK -- DAY -- ESTABLISHING]
[BOY KING IN BATHING SUIT]
‘Let me be clear. And I’ve said this before. This electric failure is why we need my infrastructure program. My iPod just died. Wittgenstein summed it up when he said ‘The negation of the absolute is the essence of seeing the internal universal in all.”
[MICHELLE IN SUN DRESS]
‘Honey, please give it a rest? Wittgen whatever isn’t gonna charge my cell phone or your little iPod.’
‘Alright, how about this? Without the juice I ain’t got no muse! Without the flow, I just can’t go! We need the volt or we’ll have to bolt . . . We . . .
‘I love you. Really. But face it, Honey. You don’t have it. That sounds like Anderson Cooper. Now Jesse, Jr., well he . . .
[JIM JONES (muffled)]
‘Mr. President elect? May I enter? There’s a situation developing in Gaza . . . I have some emergency communications gear.’
[2 HOURS LATER, INT. HOTEL ROOM, GROUP HUDDLED OVER EMERGENCY NSA SPEAKER PHONE ON DINING TABLE]
‘So let me get this straight, Hillary. Rice told you that the Israelis intend to extinguish and annihilate Hamas without mercy? To erase them from the face of the earth?’
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Well that should do the trick. Not even les sanctions politiques et économiques can be mentioned. We’ve all discussed here the limits of U.S. power projection on the World Island, much less adjacent to a non-feeble (of any sort) Russia.
If the EU and the U.S. can not even talk about sanctions in the face of brazen Russian public contempt, what’s the point of NATO expansion in the Russian Near Abroad? One must concede that Georgia was always the outer fringe of Western willingness to provoke Moscow. In April 2008 the Germans and others blocked the Warlord’s wish that Georgia receive a so-called ‘MAP’ (Membership Action Plan) for NATO consideration. Ukraine was also denied. Both were expecting that decision to be reviewed in December 2008. Ooops.
We have a part of our answer now. It’s obvious that Moscow played on Western fears and uncertainties about where to draw their Western civilization boundaries. Many in NATO do not believe Georgia even fits that bill. Regardless of who really started the Georgian debacle, we now know that Americans, Frenchmen, Germans, Dutch and Norwegians will not even risk a significant political gesture for that part of the Russian Near Abroad. Factions in Kiev also must see the handwriting on the wall. (As does Minsk. Belorussia always is among the most reliable former Soviet Republics. Never interested in NATO membership. But even they are relatively muted in their support for Georgian ‘regime change’. Let’s not forget the ‘Stans).
The real question is where the West sees Russia exceeding its unvoiced but now recognized efforts to re-assert former imperial rule. Even the Soviets now and then in Moscow gave lip service to avoiding ‘Russian chauvanism’. Right up there with their desire for mir i sotrudniechestvo (peace and cooperation). But we know the score. And so do the peripheral states.
Poland may feel somewhat secure. Those few symbolic Patriot batteries being deployed in advance of still-roll-of-the-dice-will-they-ever-work BMD interceptors are nice tokens. There are some politically valuable Polish-Americans and growing institutional ties. The Patriots will be manned by the *crucial* but tiny American trip wire garrisons in 2012.
France and the British Empire once did go to war for Poland. But those ‘powers’ are mere ghosts in history. Will 21st century Frenchmen die for the Vistula? (Germans did twice before but that’s a whole different story). Norwegians? The capable-per-unit but over all small UK forces? And could the U.S. even do it without risking a global meltdown? As an intellectual exercise — that is avoided. Regardless all would be a fait accompli by the time Americans build up, get more European base access and especially Chinese credit. Certainly Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies and export markets will continue to grow. At that point? The Russians certainly might have to withstand a withering press conference or three from Brussels and Washington.
Let’s figure for the moment that Russian prudence lurks beneath truculent press releases. Poland is not and is not likely to be on any foreseeable agenda of *forcible* regime change. Russian expansionist plans remain today and so far are based on irredentism (like Russians in the Crimea, etc.). And in a potential phase two, perhaps, confined but expanding to its historic Near Abroad. Lenin always said probe with a bayonet and if you meet steel stop.
So far, the various velvets this-and-thats cover cheese whiz. The Russians know it. At least now we do, too.
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Should the alleged cease fire hold in Ossetia (which as of this writing appears to be breaking down) the Georgian decision to start this conflict must surely rank as one of the most serious regional miscalculations in recent memory. As we all too painfully know, Americans drunk on Neocon Kool-Aid and ‘Freedom’ have never really bothered with details of regional and ethnic histories. Expanding NATO eastwards has always been one of the most provocative yet empty initiatives undertaken — this time not just by Americans but the geopolitically feeble EU as well. Who among us really thinks the U.S. would (or could) go to war over Ukraine? Poland? Let alone Georgia. Sarkozy’s six point agreement with the Russians is about the limit of EU willingness to intervene.
This may be the debacle’s only silver lining; American ill-considered interference in the Russian Near Abroad is not without consequences. Georgia’s misfortune starkly illuminates the consequences of American commitments and pledges of American power — made under both Democratic and Republican Administrations. One can not escape the reality: geopolitical overextensions become hollow very quickly. With real consequences. America was and remains essentially an amphibious geopolitical construct. Throughout history, amphibian power has never successfully penetrated the Eurasian World Island — of which Russia is the heart. Sustained amphibian power — not just ephemeral JDAM strikes — when historically successful, is limited to the World Island’s littorals with clear geopolitically limited (usually defensive) and ultimately temporary presences.
Attempts otherwise did not fare well. India, contrary to British then-contemporary thought (think Victoria’s 1887 Jubilee) , was a net drain on British power, economic viability and ultimately signaled the end of Empire. Crossing the Yalu to engage China in the center of the World Island? In face of signals to the contrary? You know what happened. Even the catastrophic German drag nach osten is essentially a littoral/fringe power seeking to subdue the World Island. Vietnam? Iraq? And so on.
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One has to agree that Edwards’ affair fess up is way TMI. Truly, his statement is bizarre. We’ll let the progressive blogosphere delve into all the angst, betrayals, and consternation. Timing the belated confession to coincide with Olympic opening night is his only good judgment on it so far.
Vlad also took advantage of the Olympics. Multiple security council negotiations are drowned out by fireworks and peoples’ fatigue of fighting in places with difficult names and even more incomprehensible grudges. So are political hacks’ tussling over which American candidate is answering the 3:00 AM phone call. Much easier to bask in Bob Costas’ authoritative discourse on volleyball arcana.
Of the two men, it is no surprise who is more adroit. Soaking in the pageantry and hospitality of America’s landlord, Vlad also gets to declare war while among his peers. (Medvedev? Please. A staffer). Putin also signals without doing so his disdain for and circumvention of the exhausted, palsied American attempts to contain and encircle him.Whether the Georgians began the crisis is – for the moment -irrelevant. Such unexpressed satisfaction there must be in certain circles in Beijing that the world is their stage, the fallen Warlord gets slapped down for his feeble mumbles about ‘liberty’, and then Putin’s (all too predictable) counter stroke.
Edwards? Apparently he still entertains delusions of speaking at an ice hockey arena in Denver.
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Is the U.S. sliding into war with Iran? Sy Hersh may be right.
What most Oppositionists and certainly the ‘Left’ [sic] in the U.S. fail to understand is that the EU behind the scenes is on board. Rumblings from Brussels (not just Carla Bruni’s beau) are clearly hawkish. In fact, EU blatantly public worries are that the Crowned One ironically may undercut the UN like the Warlord – here, seeking to use personal charm for engagement while ignoring UN sanctions and other action.
Zbig’s weighing in on all this is getting stale. He needs to retire. His son is a lobbyist and law partner. His daughter is now a blondika version of J Fred Muggs to Scarborough. More importantly, Zbig’s argument that the Iranians sought the bomb *because* of the Warlord is simply specious. (Zbig is often an ass when he writes about things outside the Polish-Great Russian geopolitical corridor — his immature writings on Japan back on the day merely one example). The Iranian program according to most honest observers began to take shape during their war with Iraq.
Interestingly, while this unfolds, a leading Neocon, Jim Hoagland in the WaPo advocates a backhand strategy for Russia. He argues that the Russians are feeling American weakness and are pushing for the rollback of American power across the board. Hoagland is at least sober about in old Sov speak the relative ‘correlation of forces’ and how depleted American assets are under Cher Condi and the Warlord. Instead of the typical cant one expects from Neocons (and Hoagland) of standing firm, promoting democracy, freedom, Georgia in NATO, etc. Hoagland says something different. He offers that we should let the Russians push, until they exhaust themselves. Then he envisions a new equillibrium of punched out American and Russian visions — sobered and weakened. Very much like Manstein at Kharkov in 1943 (hence the back hand label) — although as we all know, ‘that whole thing didn’t end so good’ as the kidz say.
Is Tehran vaut bien un Conférence sur la sécurité en Europe on Russian terms? Would it even buy Tehran? We think not. Yet, oddly, this notion of talking as a strategy — or even accomodating to a rollback — is not too far from what is emerging from the Crowned One’s camp as the framing architecture of his world view and policy.
One must ask therefore if the Crowned One and his retinue understand Power. Sentiments are fine. Lofty rhetoric is a nimbus and neither here nor there. He holds a bad hand thanks to the Warlord et al. But the world is still anarchical and Power still determines how international law, international institutions and international discourse function. How will he achieve U.S. goals balancing the UN, Brussels, Moscow and Beijing with Tehran? If Zbig and the crowd we know tossing themselves at at future Administration are any clue, we truly fear a calamitous Kennedy – Khruschev summit in Vienna. With all the potentially catastrophic misjudgments that ensued. And that is merely one small example of the larger question: what is Obama’s principle about the purpose and role of American power in the world?
That question of course cuts both ways. Domestically, forget for a moment whether he wears a flag pin, ‘she rocks’ or if he says love of America (Amerikuh?) is a given. He has yet to explain and demonstrate to the American voter his vision in practical terms. Similarly, abroad, it is not enough simply to say he will reverse the Warlord’s policies. Across the globe, everyone is asking the same question: does the Crowned One understand how to use and impose Power? Many of those flocking to the banner of Change for appointments do not, in our opinion. Talk as a strategy for buying temporal space can make sense — engagement — if part of a coherent framework that is strategic and furthers both American interests and power (not necessarily identical). Even provocations domestic and foreign (read recent choreographed exercises) can actually be used as tools to make engagement appealing. Nimble opportunism can be a plus if the goal does not get lost. But in the end, it is all about understanding the application of Power. We do not mean the Warlord’s ultimately nihilistic (behind the facade) machtpolitik. The Crowned One’s position is unenviable. So much frittered away thoughtlessly the last 8 years.
We just wonder.