Smack the Bear on the Nose

The European Leadership Network (ELN), a pan-European think tank notable to me only for my never having heard of them before, has published a report (“Dangerous Brinkmanship” – ELN – 2014-11) notable in this blog for being a useful assemblage of Russian intimidations of the West, although it only notes Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine in passing, a war which continues to slog on despite a cease-fire. That cease-fire (and the combat deployment of Russian Special Forces in unmarked uniforms using unmarked materiel) was useful only in that it enabled Russia to provide cover for the Neville Chamberlains of world leadership who would much prefer the Russians please-please-please just stop acting like the expansionist thugs they really are.

The topics are related. As Russia continues to attack Ukraine and seize territory they are simultaneously flexing their military to intimidate the West into acquiescing to their aggression. The Washington Free Beacon has been covering these intimidations for years (and note how often they are cited as sources in the footnotes of the ELN report!), but if you need to play catch-up this report at least covers 2014 and as such it’s a good place to start. I’ll also add caveats to that: the characterizations in this report tend to underplay the disturbing reality.  Just for example by way of illustration, they say the Ukraine-Russia truce is “shaky”. “Shaky” in this context is a euphemism, as it often is when used to describe any kind of agreement or treaty.  The agreement still exists because neither side has formally declared it null but there’s plenty of just cause to do just that; armed conflict erupts nearly daily somewhere in the Ukraine between the opposing forcees, and  Russia just sent 74 trucks carrying unmarked troops and towing GRAD rocket launchers & 155MM artillery, after having just sent another 32 tanks, 16 artillery pieces, and 30 trucks hauling ammunition and fighters a couple of days prior.

The ELN recommended actions are pitifully inadequate and give the impression that the problem is primarily one of communication – timidly acknowledging in passing that Russia should reassess the costs & risks, but more importantly the West should use diplomacy to get them to reconsider and stop (or, as they delicately put it, “move in this direction”). And, really, “All sides should exercise military and political restraint”, and “All sides must improve military-to-military communication and transparency”? As if to say, hey, all sides are to blame here, we need more restraint and open communication from everyone to resolve this. Perhaps my expectations of the ELN are too high – after all, they are a “European” think tank that considers Europe to include Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and all the countries of the Caucasus.  I’m sure that bit of wishful thinking seemed like a good idea at the time but they should have sobered up by now.

– Russia does not want more military-to-military communication or openness. A “red telephone” hotline is useful for unintentional incidents, but when it comes to acts of aggression Russia wants the West to be unsure and afraid to obstruct or retaliate, and so to acquiesce.

– Russia will not exercise restraint because that would interfere with above-stated goal.

– Russia has already assessed the costs and risks and found themselves to be in a position favorable to aggression. The report recommends clearly communicating to Russia the risk of escalation, intentional or otherwise, but for that to work the risk has to be credible. Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas, economically distressed, militarily weak, and culturally meek. America is economically distressed (albeit to a lesser extent) and militarily strong but weakening. More to the point, the American Commander-in-Chief is a Leftist with a soft spot for anti-Western totalitarian regimes; only internal pressure will get the POTUS to defend our interests abroad.

America should roll up a newspaper and smack the bear on the nose. Escalation works when used against a militarily inferior and rational opponent. Troop buildups and wargames on their borders are all well and good, too, but here we start running into our own problems. European nations must want us there, doing that, and give us support and cooperation on the scale that’s necessary – but it’s a questionable proposition given that they do not appear or act scared of the Russian trajectory and committed to forming a united defense against it. Granted, American-led NATO is trying to do that now, but the deployment numbers are trivial – and obviously ineffective.

Russia needs to receive stronger messages; close-in overflights of our ships should be met with SAMs.  That’s right – shoot them down.  No potentially hostile aircraft should ever be allowed to get that close to our warships or military installations.  Also, Sweden should have dropped ordinance on the “mystery” sub, whether or not they thought they had a kill-shot, but they chose not to do so. Overall, my concern is that we need to stop the Russians but do so in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the military decline of Western Europe by virtue of our acting as a stand-in for their hollowed-out military forces, as we did for decades during the Cold War and continue to do so to this day. In short, we might be able to save them from Russia but we can’t save them from themselves.

Russia’s assessment of the prospects of getting a buffer zone of thrall states is realistic.  As I noted previously in this blog post, we should also be enthusiastically inviting former Soviet Bloc countries to free trade talks and security agreements; we need to strengthen our ties to European NATO members (excluding Turkey, which should be ejected altogether) even as we hold their feet to the fire until they rebuild their military capabilities as we rebuild our own. Until we get a POTUS with two on the vine this is unlikely.

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U.S. is a Specter of Death Going Door-to-Door

Here’s an image grab from a Russian LiveJournal blog, this time from a self-described “journalist”.   Via the magic of Google Translate the jist of the post seemed to be that we’ll only know in fifty years how Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down, but really it’s all a game being played by the great powers (which, in the mind of this blogger, apparently includes Russia), and so, in conclusion, America promises democracy but instead brings war and death:

Specter of U.S. Door-to-Door Death Meets Russian Bear

 

Firstly, Alex, an amuse-bouche: If the United States wanted to “Rule the World” we’d have installed puppet governments in our conquered satellite states. You know, the way Russia just did in Crimea.  Instead, we conquer brutal tyrannies and replace them with constitutional republics, and after that they’re on their own (see Afghanistan, Iraq, Panama, South Korea, etc.)

Secondly, Alex, here’s bite of a clue sandwich for you: Your expansionist nation is waging a war, largely but not entirely by proxy, to annex Crimea and create a land bridge connecting it to Russia. Your proxy thugs and their Russian special forces enablers shot down a civilian airliner because they thought it was a Ukrainian military cargo, and so jet killed 298 innocent people.  After they learned of their mistake Russia has made every effort to cover up their responsibility and cast blame elsewhere. Only the willful blindness of fools like yourself are required for that to be successful.

 

 

Who Are We to Criticize? Well, Who Do We Have to Be?

[N.B.: For whatever reason WordPress doesn’t seem to have sent out subscriber emails when my post (“Unicorn Dreams Melting in the Crucible of Reality” – EoT – 2014-03-03) was published last night. Go figure; click the link if you missed it.]  Moving right along…

Eugene Robinson. He seems like a nice guy, or at least not malicious and hateful; naive and ignorant but true to his principles. I have some respect for that, as opposed to the party hacks like E.J.Dionne who employ whatever situational principles will support their side. Yesterday Eugene weighed in on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and says – we have a credibility problem (“In the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. has a credibility problem” – WaPo – 2014-03-03):

Is it just me, or does the rhetoric about the crisis in Ukraine sound as if all of Washington is suffering from amnesia? We’re supposed to be shocked — shocked! — that a great military power would cook up a pretext to invade a smaller, weaker nation? I’m sorry, but has everyone forgotten the unfortunate events in Iraq a few years ago?

No, Eugene, it’s not just you – it’s Liberals (and pinko Lefties, and conspiracy nuts). Liberals like you have indeed forgotten that the Senate Select Committee on Iraq Pre-War Intelligence found that the case for Iraqi WMDs was not fabricated. That was the bipartisan Congressional investigation which Liberals demanded – Demanded! – because they just knew that W had lied – Lied! – about Iraqi WMDs. Bush, Cheney, Feith, and the rest of those criminal neocons, all lying liars who tell lies! So they stamped their little feet and banged their spoons on their highchairs until they got the Congressional investigation they wanted.

Sort of. They got the bipartisan Congressional  investigation, all right, but the results were not to their liking. What the report said was that while some of the evidence was flawed, none of the evidence for WMDs was fabricated, and actually there was even more evidence which would have made an even stronger case but was withheld by the White House because they didn’t deem reliable enough. The intelligence agencies were, however, unanimous in their confidence that Iraq had WMDs (chemical, probably biological, and maybe nuclear), which is why the liaison to the White House of all of those agencies, CIA Director George Tenet, told POTUS W that the case for Iraqi WMDs was “a slam-dunk”. The intelligence agencies of our allies concurred; Germany even thought Iraq would get a nuclear weapon within five years.

As you might expect, this was not the conclusion Liberals were expecting or hoping for, so they demanded – Demanded! – an investigation into the intelligence agencies, because surely they had been pressured to cook up the “right” answers.  Surely Dick Cheney had paid an unofficial visit to Langley, put his arm around the shoulder of those quaking analysts, and told them just exactly what they were going to “find”, right?  They got their bipartisan Congressional investigation – see the Robb-Silberman report – and after all the intelligence analysts were interviewed, in private, with assurances of immunity, each and every one stood by their reports and denied categorically that anyone had influenced their conclusions in any way.  In fact, every bipartisan Congressional investigation has failed to deliver what the Liberals were really after – a basis for impeachment and trial for the “war criminals” of the Bush Administration – and despite that Liberals have always gone right back to accusing W and his cohort of evil neocons of cooking up a pretext to invade Iraq.  They openly maintain that fiction to this day, as above.

[…] the United States, frankly, has limited standing to insist on absolute respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign states.

This straw-man set-up needs some work. The United States does not and never has insisted on an “absolute respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign states” – Robinson is just making this up.  It should be noted, however, that after overthrowing the bloody dictatorship of Hussein and his psychopathic sons in 2003 we turned Iraq into a self-governing constitutional republic, while simultaneously crushing the internal and external jihadists and Baathists who tried to keep Iraq in thrall.  Again, not exactly a good counterpoint to Russia and Crimea today.

Before Iraq there was Afghanistan, there was the Persian Gulf War, there was Panama, there was Grenada.

Yeah, Panama and Grenada, I’ll give him those, but the Persian Gulf War? You’ll recall that this was precipitated by Saddam Hussein outright invading and annexing Kuwait – and subsequently we smashed his military and then we handed Kuwait right back to the Kuwaiti emirates, so that flies in the face of his claim, yes?  For Robinson, it doesn’t matter; at this point he’s just rattling off U.S. wars that he opposed, because War, Man, y’know, it’s just Bad!  We’re Bad!  We warmongers, bad bad people are we.  All wars bad.  We’re bad.  So thanks for clarifying that, Eugene.

Come to think of it, Panama and Grenada were also handed back to their citizens, free and democratic. This is in sharp contrast to what Russia is doing, and did you notice that Robinson throws in Afghanistan? So, let me get this straight: Afghanistan hosted terrorists who attacked the United States, and so we changed their regime into a constitutional republic and went after those jihadists who opposed us – and Robinson is effectively saying this was bad, because we didn’t respect the territorial integrity of Afghanistan? What jackassery.

And even as we condemn Moscow for its outrageous aggression, we reserve the right to fire deadly missiles into Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else.

Robinson has a legitimate grievance here but it doesn’t apply to his thesis. I agree with him that there are problems with firing missiles into other states unless those states allow us to do so (as does, for example, Pakistan). However, in contrast to Russia/Crimea, we are not seizing territory or doing regime change, so this doesn’t really belong in Robinson’s opinion piece. Not this one, anyway.

The Obama administration has been clear in its condemnation of Putin’s operation. Critics who blame the Russian action on “weak” or “feckless” U.S. foreign policy are being either cynical or clueless.
It is meaningless to rattle sabers if the whole world knows you have no intention of using them. There is no credible military threat by the United States that could conceivably force Putin to surrender Crimea if he doesn’t want to. Russia is much diminished from the Soviet era but remains a superpower whose nuclear arsenal poses an existential threat to any adversary. There are only a few nations that cannot be coerced by, say, the sudden appearance on the horizon of a U.S. aircraft carrier group. Russia is one of them.

The accusations that POTUS Obama is weak and feckless are not predicated on his lack of a military response to the Russian invasion of Crimea. He is weak and feckless because he has not pursued economic pacts and undercut military ties to Eastern European countries (abandoning plans for missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic come to mind, by way of example).  In doing so he created a power vacuum, which is now being filled by the ruthless Russians.

I’d also add that POTUS Obama is an utter fool for pursuing arms treaties with and making unilateral preemptive concessions to Russia despite their having violated every major weapons treaty they’ve ever signed, as well as having repeatedly flown nuclear bombers into our Air Defense Identification zonesimulated an attack run on our missile defenses in Asia, and prowled around our East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico with attack submarines.   I’ll further add that POTUS Obama has pursued this despite Russia having been most helpful to Iran and Syria in waging wars against their own people.  I’ll further assert that the “weak” and “feckless” accusations are probably based more on Obama’s tendency to stay out of world political events in the hopes that they’ll resolve themselves without his having to say or do much of anything, and then when the problems get bigger he wades in cautiously and noncommittally, usually too late.  Much as he did with Iran in 2011/2, Syria 2011-present, and today in the Russia/Crimea invasion.

If the man had brains or balls, in response to the Russian invasion of Crimea, he’d be publicly and enthusiastically invite former Soviet Bloc countries into talks on free trade and military preparedness.  Countries like (what’s left of) Ukraine, (what’s left of) Georgia, Poland, Hungary, and Romania.

Message: “There’s a big bad bear in them thar woods; let’s partner up.”

Unicorns Dreams Melting in the Crucible of Reality

It’s been grimly amusing to watch the Liberal-Left grapple with Putin’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula: “It’s a mistake“, “What are their aims / sure to backfire“, and the general slackjawed confused incredulity coupled with indignation and condemnation.  We’re seeing something like a cascade effect; yes, they’re ticked off at Russia, but also the Obama Administration, and not just for this instance, but for the botched diplomacy of the last five years.  “Reset Button” indeed.

It’s the reaction of the Liberal-Left to this geopolitical crisis which I find surprising.  Yesterday, in a stunning editorial (“President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy” – Editorial – WaPo – 2014-03-02) – which in terms of content or tone could have appeared in almost any mainstream right-wing blog or magazine – the WaPo seems to have suddenly realized what the right-wing has been saying for years and years, even before Obama was elected POTUS.  Not that they’ll give due credit to them for being correct; recall that Romney, Palin, McCain, and even W were castigated and mocked by these lefties as being stupid throwbacks who were still stuck in the Cold War.  Just a week ago the editorial board of the NYTimes was lauding proposed cuts to our military budget, the better to fit our modern era of peace (“A Military Budget to Fit the Times” – NYTimes Editorial – 2014-02-25); now they’re outraged at the military aggression of Russia (“Russia’s Aggression” – NYTimes Editorial – 2014-03-02).  That’s not to say that they’ll connect those dots, but they do seem to be converging.

It seems to me that what Russia is doing is plain.  They have a major naval base in Crimea and they want it back; not directly annexed into the Russian Federation, per se, but under the control of a puppet government, much as satellite states such as the whole of Ukraine were under the Soviet Union.  Ukraine is unable to resist them; militarily they are vastly inferior and would be defeated should they attempt to take back Crimea by force (and note well that it is this Ukrainian military weakness which has invited Russian military aggression).  In the event that they were to try to do so anyway Russia may very well take more of their territory, perhaps to the extent of militarily overthrowing the new government and installing a puppet regime over the whole of their country.  Europe is beholden to Russia for their oil and natural gas and so are unlikely to impose meaningful or long-lasting sanctions to punish Russia; Russia would likely retaliate economically by raising their prices, or even curtailing supply.  The United States has little economic leverage with Russia so economic sanctions on our part are essentially toothless.  What’s more (for those Lefties playing along at home), let me point out that Russia is on the U.N. Security Council and will veto any binding resolutions against them.

So is Russia making a mistake?  Doesn’t look that way to me.  They got to keep a chunk of Georgia they took in 2008, and now they’ve bitten off a hunk of the Ukraine, and there’s little anyone can do about it.  The Russian stock market is down and the Ruble continues to slide, but the economic loss so far has been comparatively negligible since declining Russian economic fortunes have had more to do with the decline in pricing of petroenergy than anything else; on the whole, so far, they’ve gotten Crimea for a bargain.   That looks like a win for Russia.

In the West, mugged by reality, Liberals seem genuinely surprised.  It’s like they’re awake now, after a long dream about unicorns and rainbows – let’s see how long it takes for them to nod off again.  In the meantime I think this is an excellent opportunity to approach the non-aligned countries of Eastern European with talks on strengthening our economic and military ties.