• Whither Ukraine

    December 9, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    From the moment Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, there were only two possible outcomes: Ukraine reaches a diplomatic solution which resets its physical eastern border (i.e., Russia annexes much of eastern Ukraine to the Dnieper River, and establishes a land bridge to Crimea) and firmly reestablishes its geopolitical role as buffer state between NATO and Russia; or, via battlefield losses and diplomacy Russia retreats to its original February starting point (albeit inside the Ukraine in areas like Donbas) and Ukraine firmly reestablishes its geopolitical role as buffer state between NATO and Russia.

    As of Day 237 (October 17) despite much noise about nuclear war and regime change, those are still the only realistic outcomes. Diplomacy is necessary and diplomacy is sufficient to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Until all parties realize that and sit down, the increasingly bloody and efficient meatgrinder will continue. The current status of the war — WWII style 20th century conquering of territory by creeping land advances with 21st century weaponry — cannot continue indefinitely.

    Vladimir Putin’s goal in his invasion has never been something quick and has never included Kiev. It has always been to widen the speed bump Ukraine is between Russia and NATO. This problem for Putin is ever more acute as NATO builds up strength in Poland. While powerless to negotiate for itself at the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia was promised NATO would not expand eastward, a lie, and now Poland is sacrosanct NATO territory, as blessed as Paris, Berlin, or London as untouchable by foreign invasion.

    The Russian countermove (and there is always a countermove, these guys play chess, remember) is to widen the border with Ukraine and make it strategically impossible for NATO to cross in force. The war would be fought with NATO on Ukrainian territory. The idea that the Soviet Union was tricked in 1989-90 is at the heart of Russia’s confrontation with the west in Ukraine and no conclusion to that fight will take place without acknowledgment on the ground. That’s why any plan to drive Russia back to pre-February 2022 borders would be a fight to the end and an impossible victory for Ukraine no matter how much U.S. weaponry they are gifted.

    So Russia wants the eastern portion of Ukraine (east of the Dnieper River) as buffer ground. It wants Crimea and maybe Odessa as staging grounds to drive northward into NATO’s invading flank if things ever come to that. The invasion of Ukraine is survival-level action in Putin’s mind, and a settling of an old score from 1989, and it is impossible to imagine him having taken the inevitable step of starting the invasion that he would back off without achieving results. It is not a matter of “face” as portrayed in the Western press but one of literal life-or-death in the ongoing struggle with NATO. There is no trust after 1989 in Putin’s calculus. Imagine North Korea asking to renegotiate the location of the DMZ southward at this point.

    A quick word about the non-use of nuclear weapons. Putin’s plan depends on fighting Ukraine, and thus the U.S. by proxy, not direct conflict with the militarily superior United States and whole of NATO. Despite all the tough talk, Ukraine is not a member of NATO and is unlikely to be a member in the near future, and so the only way to assuredly bring America into the fight on the ground or tactically, air strikes, is a nuclear weapon. That opens the door for anything; until that mushroom cloud, Russia and the U.S. are a married couple having an argument, saying anything but limiting themselves to angry words and the occasional thrown dish. Set off that nuke and it is like one partner escalated from late nights out with the boys to a full-on affair and at that point all the rules are thrown away. Anything can happen, and Putin’s plan cannot withstand “anything” in the form of U.S. direct intervention. Hence, no nukes. And Biden should tell Kiev to stop bombing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to try and force the nuclear card. Absent something like that, Putin’ll fight conventionally.

    Sanctions don’t matter, they never have. From Day One U.S.-imposed energy sanctions have played to Russia’s favor economically as oil prices rise. Things may come to a head in a month or two as winter sets in in Germany and that natural gas from Russia is missed but that is a domestic German problem the U.S. is likely to simply poo-poo away (once economic powerhouse and U.S. competitor Germany showed its first negative foreign trade imbalance since 1991, a nice bonus for America.) Things got so loose that someone needed to blow up the Nordstrom 2 pipeline to make the point with Germany that it may have to do without Russian energy to maintain the fiction sanctions will bring an end to this war. Sanctions are a Potemkin mirage for the American public, not a restraint on Russia. There is no regime change coming in Moscow as there is no one with the power to pull it off who would want anything to change.

    Putin’s call for diplomacy will occur only if the costs continue to mount on his side under his form of warfare. Here Putin faces a weakness, his chosen style of warfare. WWI was essentially a play on 18th century warfare where the two sides lined up across a field and shot at each other until one side call it quits. But WWI saw armies face off across those fields but with 20th century artillery, machine guns, and other tools of killing far more effective than an 18th century musket. It was unsustainable, literally chewing up men and eventually simply wore out both sides. Fresh troops from the U.S. gave the advantage to the British/French side at the crucial end game of WWI, but if the U.S. had stayed home in 1917 the war would have been militarily a ghastly tie.

    See the plan yet? Putin knows nothing short of a NATO strike can dislodge him from eastern Ukraine and thus has no incentive to leave. Putin has from the first shots calibrated his invasion not to give the U.S. a reason to join in. That’s why the tit-for-tat on weaponry used is so near comical; Russian fires missiles on Ukrainian cities, Ukraine demands anti-missile weapons from the U.S. America can salvage its self-proclaimed role as defender of the Ukraine simply with these arms fulfillment packages, along with a few special forces and the CIA paramilitaries. Where is are the Russian strategic bombers? Where is the global war on Ukrainian shipping? Where are the efforts to close Ukraine’s western border with Poland? Where is the gargantuan Red Army NATO expected to roar into western Europe for 40 years? The conquest of Ukraine being treated as a small unit exercise tells us much.

    None of this is any great secret. The off ramp in Ukraine, one of the two possible outcomes, is clear enough to Washington. The Biden administration seems content, however, shamefully not to call for diplomatic efforts but instead to bleed out the Russians as if this was Afghanistan 1980 all over again, all the while looking tough and soaking up whatever positive biparty electoral feelings are due for “war time” president Joe Biden. As with Afghanistan in 1980, the U.S. seems ready to fight until the last local falls (supplying them just enough weaponry to avoid losing) before facing the inevitable negotiated ending, a shameful position then and a shameful one now. A multipolar, spheres-of-influence world has returned, acknowledge it with diplomacy and stop the killing.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Other Ideas

    Doomsday Clock Tells Us Maybe It’s Time

    May 28, 2022 // Comments Off on Doomsday Clock Tells Us Maybe It’s Time

    Looking back just a handful of years the world seemed, to many Democrats and the MSM at least, a powder keg. Trump’s ignoramous remarks about Taiwan coupled with aggressive sanctions threatened war with China. The only question seemed to be whether it would erupt in the Taiwan Strait first or over some lousy lump of rock in the South China Sea, the WWI Archduke’s assassination for the modern age.

    Elsewhere in Asia, Trump’s clumsy mano-a-mano with North Korea set the world on edge as rumors had it he was ready to evacuate American dependents from South Korea ahead of imminent hostilities. Then there were the Tweet Wars, with insults such as “Little Rocket Man” and Kim’s “dotard” retort hurled across the Pacific presaging a nuclear exchange, followed by those clumsy diplo efforts that looked like the worst Grindr first date ever. There would be no war; Trump would simply give it all away, canceling vital military exercises in South Korea and considering withdrawing U.S. forces from the peninsula.

    War in the Middle East was one tick from inevitable, with Trump having dumped the Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran, done something or not enough in Syria, no one was sure, and fanned the flames of Islamic butt aching by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. No one remembers why anymore, but the U.S. was supposedly also at the brink of war in Venezuela, and with Trump failing to Lead the Free World and NATO weakening, the dogs of war sat on the front stoop begging Scooby Treats in Europe. At the end things got really hairy, with both Pelosi and members of the Joint Chiefs terrified what a desperate Trump might do with nuclear weapons.

    So it is no surprise the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists described things as “a global race toward catastrophe” and set its famous Doomsday Clock in 2019 at 100 seconds to midnight and kept it there, the closest it had ever been to apocalypse, what they called “the new abnormal.” Something was literally going to blow if the pressure were not let off, and the Bulletin offered along with about half of America that the 2020 “leadership change in the United States provided hope that what seemed like a global race toward catastrophe might be halted and — with renewed U.S. engagement — even reversed.” Biden would lead the way.

    The Bulletin is no small potatoes. Founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin created the Doomsday Clock, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey the threat to humanity. The Doomsday Clock is reset every year by the Bulletin’s Board in consultation with 11 Nobel laureates.

    So with the warmongering Trump safely stowed away in his villain’s lair of Mar-a-Lago, what of the peacemaker, Joseph Biden? Biden took office with no immediate crisis at hand. Yet all he has done is blunder poorly through a growing threat board of nuclear-tinged incidents.

    Holy malarkey have things gotten more tense with China. Biden envisions China as an autocratic foe for democracy to wage a global struggle against. “On my watch,” Joe said, “China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Biden went on to claim the world was at an inflection point to determine “whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.” In Biden’s neo-Churchillian view, the U.S. and what the hell, the whole free world he believes he is president of, are in an ultimately nuclear death match with China.

    Biden puts his diplomatic gaffes where his oral ones are. Joe recently broke code and blurted out the U.S. will indeed defend Taiwan, which, if true, ultimately would involve for nukes. Some saber rattling? Sure. Even as Chinese president Xi spoke of peaceful reunification during the October political holidays, the U.S., U.K., and Japan conducted joint operations in the China Sea. Meanwhile, on Biden’s watch Australia ditched a $66 billion contract for French diesel-electric submarines to instead buy U.S. nuclear-powered submarines, a move which enraged China and NATO-ally France. Calling Biden’s actions Trumpian (aïe-aïe-aïe!) France withdrew its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. France had never before withdrawn its ambassador to the U.S., dating back to the initial alliance in 1778, two years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence. So never mind the likelihood that Biden will ever recruit France into any coalition against Chinese power, or China vis-à-vis North Korea. And la-di-da to Candidate Biden’s promises to repair U.S. alliances post-Trump.

    That alongside a new Pacific parley which will see Australia, the U.S., and the United Kingdom share advanced technologies. The genesis was the U.S. military’s muscular diplomacy, ramping up for a war with China they hope will power budgets for decades. A side deal with Britain to station its two newest aircraft carriers in Asia was certainly part of the package. This brings both the British and the Australians, nuclearized, into the South China Sea in force as if an arms salesman wrote Biden’s policy. In the background looms research by all sides into hypersonic weapons capable of delivering nuclear bombs under existing missile shields.

    In the greater MidEast, the less said about the signal sent by America’s crude cut-and-run exit after 20 years in Afghanistan, many of those alongside NATO allies like Germany and Canada cajoled into participation, the better. The U.S. Embassy, which remains in Jerusalem, remains a sore thumb to many Islamic nations. Unwilling to cut a new Iran deal alongside the Russians and unable to do so without them, Biden changed nothing in the nuclear calculus among the U.S., Israel, and Iran. Two of the three remain nuclear powers and the other sits on the threshold either to suffer another nuclear-trigger happy Israeli brush back pitch or slide into the abyss with a mushroom cloud heralding a new club member.

    As Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden had several options. A) Biden could have taken the Obama route, declaring Ukraine unimportant strategically to the U.S. and lumping it alongside Donbas, Georgia, and Crimea. Kick in some new sanctions, maybe some arms sales, a lot of “standing with” proclamations. Or B) Biden could have demanded NATO take its role as defender of a free Europe seriously, and support militarily a NATO-led effort of sanctions and military assistance to Ukraine. Or C) Waive NATO aside as the generally useless organization it is and implement largely U.S.-led sanctions and military assistance to Ukraine. Or chose D) Tie some sort of ambiguous victory in Ukraine to U.S. prestige, pretend NATO was standing tough, and devote U.S. military resources to everything short of direct combat with Russia. Any one of these would have left Biden in good stead domestically as a strong leader and avoided further entanglement and distraction.

    Instead, Biden went for E) All of the above plus a stated policy of watering the fields of Ukraine with the blood of Russian martyrs as if this was Afghanistan 1980 all over again. The goal is not just to have Russia leave, it is to attrite them to the last possible man.

    Among the so-many problems of this bleed ’em dry strategy is that it set the U.S. and Russia on a direct course to collision (the U.S. providing targeting data to sink flagships and kill generals in the field is only short of war because a Ukrainian finger was presumably on the trigger not an American one) and provoked the first serious mention of the use of nuclear weapons of the 21st century. Suddenly what could have faded off as a semi-failed land incursion into Ukraine became the first struggle of the New Cold War (Nancy Pelosi said the struggle is about defending “democracy writ large for the world”) Eagle versus the Bear, Top Gun III, with everything from Russian pride to Putin’s own regime survival now on the line. And when everything is on the line, you invoke the “everything” weapon, nukes. Putin is a cautious man, but accidents happen and miscalculations with nukes (chemicals, biologicals, heavy cyber, etc…) sting.

    While Joe is talking up the bleeding strategy as a common-sense response to Russian aggression (while we’re there with all these U.S. weapons for the Ukrainians we might as well get a piece of the Bear for ourselves, seems only fair), the shift amounts to a significant escalation. By canning diplomatic efforts in favor of a more violent war, the United States greatly increased the danger of an even larger conflict — the atomic threats out of Moscow. This is risk way out of line with any realistic gain. Earlier U.S. rattling, about the Russian blitzkrieg threatening Poland and beyond, seems near-comical as the Russian offensive bogs down in the mud of eastern Ukraine. What kind of nuclear gamesmanship is it when Biden risks all for nothing much? What kind of nuclear gamesmanship is it to tell your opponent humiliation is his only way out?

    As for the Doomsday Clock, the hopes the Bulletin showed on Biden’s election in 2020 were stomped on by Russia, with a major assist from Biden himself. The clock stays set at 100 seconds to midnight, same place Trump left it.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Other Ideas

    Taiwan is Not Ukraine is Not Taiwan

    March 5, 2022 // 6 Comments »

    I have a medal for winning the Cold War. It was issuable to any member of the military, or civilian employee of the federal government, who served during the Cold War. That included me, at the tail end, with the State Department. Ironically my so-called Cold War service was on Taiwan. I probably should return the thing; the Cold War is far from over.

    Part of the Cold War’s real conclusion is playing out in Ukraine in real time. Is Taiwan, another hanging chad from the Cold War, next? Is President Xi watching a weakened America giving in to the Russians and seeing his chance to seize Taiwan?

    Nope. Taiwan is not Ukraine is not Taiwan. The two states only exist next to each other in articles like this because both are the results of American policy. Each exists alongside its nemesis only because the rules the U.S. created after WWII are not subscribed to anymore by most of the world, if they ever really were. But that does not mean Taiwan is in imminent danger.

    While Putin‘s instant invasion timing may or may not have had something to do with Joe Biden (if Trump were really his puppet that would have seemed an easier time to do this) the reality is what is unfolding in the Ukraine reaches back much further than Biden or Trump, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was then the policy of the United States to empower the former Soviet satellite states and grow American influence by expanding NATO eastward (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania formally joined the alliance, East Germany as well by default) and to do this while taking the nuclear weapons away from those states so that none of them would become a threat or rival in Europe. We took their people, too. As a young State Department officer in London in the early 1990s I was told to issue visa after visa to former nuclear scientists from the Ukraine, as well as all sorts of rogues headed to the United States to get them out of the ‘Stans. We created a brain drain to ensure none of the new nation states could rise above the nuclear threshold the United States established unilaterally for them. It was American policy to have weak but not too weak border states between Russia and the “good” part of Europe.

    Understanding why an adversary does something is not the same as supporting him. As the Soviet Union collapsed, borders were redrawn with more attention to the West’s needs than any natural flow of those borders (the same mistake was made earlier by the British post-WWI in the Middle East.) Historically at some point in time all those borders were just glaciers, so it is always possible to argue some slip of history means somewhere used to be owned by someone going all the way back to mastodons. The reality of 2022 is Putin is seeking to redraw borders created by his adversaries, something now possible as Russia has been allowed by the West to re-grow its fangs. Ukraine as a possible NATO member was a threat to Putin and he this week is taking care of that. Americans live in a country that essentially has no border threats and fail to understand this time after time. We believe when we invade countries (Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan) it’s part of international law.

    Geopolitically, it was easy. A pro-Russian faction exists inside Ukraine, and Ukraine exists outside the NATO umbrella. Putin’s proof-of-concept, his 2014 takeover of Crimea, assured him NATO would not militarily intervene. About the only real obstacle he faced was the likely pleas of President Xi to hold off a couple of weeks and not spoil the Olympics.

    Taiwan is another Cold War relic. The U.S. propped up Taiwan’s very undemocratic military government for decades as an ironic bulkhead against communism. Taiwan grew into an economic powerhouse and in that lies the fundamental difference between the relationships of Russia and Ukraine, and China and Taiwan.

    China and Taiwan are economic partners. Between 1991 and March 2020 Taiwan’s investment in China totaled $188.5 billion, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. China and Taiwan are ethnically the same people, enjoying an enormous amount of cross strait commerce, culture, student exchanges, visits among relatives, and other ties that indicate a growing, positive relationship not an adversarial one. What incentive would China have to drop bombs on one of its best customers?

    There’s also the U.S. to consider, as any cross-strait violence would affect US-China relations; Ukraine has little effect on the already poor state of US-Russia relations. The total Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is over $145 billion. U.S. investment in China passed $1 trillion. China is the second largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt. If something interfered with all that commerce, China would have to find a way to use unfinished iPhones as food.

    One of the problems with the sanctions Biden is claiming he’s going to use to punish Russia is how unintegrated Russia is in the world economy after so many years of sanctions. Really, what’s left that will sting? Biden promises “economic consequences like none [Putin]’s ever seen.” But the Panama Papers already showed much of the so-called oligarch money, including Putin’s, is not in the U.S. or its allies’ banking systems anyway. Germany is temporarily halting certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but no one is talking about tearing it down. if U.S. sanction drive up gas prices without affecting the situation on the ground in Ukraine, who is sanctioning whom?

    China on the other hand is deeply integrated into the global economy and vulnerable to sanctions and disruptions of commerce following an attack on Taiwan. The risk in calculatable dollars is beyond any gain owning Taiwan would bring; imagine the impact of closing U.S. ports to Chinese cargo vessels.

    On the military side, Russia was able to literally drive into Ukraine, something the mighty Red Army has been perfecting since 1945. Taiwan famously is an island, and a Chinese amphibious invasion would represent something larger than the Normandy D-Day landings. Whereas the Ukrainians have limited ability to respond to a blitzkrieg land invasion, Taiwan fields Harpoon missiles with the range to put Chinese forces under fire almost as they leave port. Militarily there is no comparison between the flat plains of the Ukraine and the rocky coast of Taiwan. Nobody undertakes an invasion they are very likely to lose.

    An invasion of Taiwan would leave China politically isolated, economically damaged, and reputationally crippled. Not so for Russia and Ukraine where the benefits to Russia outweigh the risk. Taiwan is not Ukraine is not Taiwan.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Other Ideas

    The British Empire, the Eagle and the Bear: Non-Options for Crimea and Ukraine

    March 5, 2014 // 30 Comments »




    “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests,” John Kerry said on Meet the Press. “This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”

    Following Kerry’s comment, laughter could be heard from Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Libya, many undisclosed parts of Africa, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and across the Middle East. Faint chortles echoed out of Grenada, Bosnia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Snickers in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and El Salvador.

    The Triumph of Syria

    Kerry of course had previously brought the joy of laughter to the world in the midst of the last Syrian “crisis.” Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the Obama administration’s urge to launch strikes against al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.”

    But like any good comedian, Kerry saved the big joke for last, when, in London enflight to the new, bestest war ever, Kerry famously and offhandedly said conflict could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach, with Vladimir Putin as an unlikely peacemaker. The U.S. did not attack Syria and the show ended with a good belly laugh for all.

    Onward to the Ukraine

    With Kerry once again taking the show on the road by flying to the Ukraine, all of cable TV has arisen as one demanding options, demanding cards to be played, demanding a catalog of “what the U.S. can do.” As a public service, here is that catalog of U.S. options for the Crimean Crisis:

    –Seal Team 6 will infiltrate Russia, ring Putin’s doorbell late at night and run away in Operation DING&DITCH. Ashton Kutcher will lead the Team.

    — A senior U.S. Embassy official in Moscow will cluck his tongue and roll his eyes disapprovingly.

    — State Department social media rangers will send out Tweets calling Putin a “poopy head.” The Russian translation by State will actually come across as “A green dog’s sandwich” but sure, they’ll get we’re mad.

    — The NSA will hack Putin’s web cam sessions, showing him shirtless. Putin himself will turn around and post the video online.

    — The NSA will also break into Putin’s NetFlix queue and change everything to romantic comedies and Jack Black movies.

    — The U.S. will recruit remaining allies Lichtenstein, Monaco, East Timor and Freedonia to enforce sanctions against Russia.

    — The State Department will direct Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland to say “F*ck the E.U.,” in a recorded conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

    — Obama will unfriend Putin on Facebook.


    Flashman at the Charge

    As is obvious, there is little the U.S. can, should or will do. The more the U.S. swaggers hollowly about the Crimea, the sadder it all sounds.

    John Kerry, in what he thought was a stinging remark, labeled Russia’s invasion of the Crimean “19th century behavior in the 21st century.” As usual, Kerry was close to being right without actually realizing what he said.

    The 19th century player in this Great Gameis actually the U.S. itself. After following the footsteps of the British Empire into Iraq, after plunging deep into the graveyard of the British Empire in Afghanistan, after fumbling in the British swamp of Pakistan, the U.S. now returns to the land of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Crimea. Like the Victorian British, the U.S. imagines the world as a chessboard where it can move pieces around with predictable results, shaping world affairs to its own advantage while placing opponents in check. If that was ever true, the events of the last decade demonstrate it is not true anymore.

    As with everyone else who failed to learn the lessons of history and thus will be doomed to repeat them, inevitably next, the U.S. will slip beneath the waves as did the British Empire, over-extended, bankrupt and endlessly tied to foreign policy adventures that mean nothing while the world changes around it. It’s been a good run though, right?



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Other Ideas