Sunday, August 31, 2008

An Entire Nation Gone Quite Mad

Watching Russia is like watching someone going mad before our eyes. Is it really possible for a nuclear-armed nation to be this paranoid and out of touch with reality? Or are the leaders so basically evil that they are willing to speak this way to gain a perceived edge politically with their citizens?

Russia does not want confrontation with the West but will hit back if attacked, Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev said on Sunday, a day before EU leaders meet to draft a response to Moscow's actions in Georgia.

Is Medvedev trying to ride nationalism to power? Is he using this crisis to wrest power from the real leader Putin? Said Medvedev, the pretend leader of Russia:

"Russia does not want confrontation with any country. Russia does not plan to isolate itself," Medvedev said in an interview with Russia's three main television stations.

But he added: "Everyone should understand that if someone launches an aggressive sortie, he will receive a response." He said Russian law allowed the Kremlin to impose sanctions on other states, though it preferred not to go down that path.

This is madness. And this is seriously dangerous. This isn't Chavez's Venezuela, where lunatic rantings aren't backed by any power. That talk of worrying about aggression is from a nuclear-armed remnant superpower.

These nutballs could talk themselves into a war with NATO if they don't wake up from their drunken Georgia binge. Just how do you deal with an entire nuclear-armed nation that is clinically insane?

All the Difference in the World

I recently watched The Kingdom, the movie about American investigators who go to Saudi Arabia to catch terrorists who attacked an American civilian compound.

I'm late on commenting on this, so forgive me for revisiting old material.

The movie was pretty good with the good guys (that would be us, for the confused) nailing the bad guys (that would be the terrorists, for the same confused lot) with lots of good explosions and gun battles. I didn't see how this was a statement against the United States. This was perplexing given early reports that the movie people were disturbed that the audience cheered the Americans when we killed the terrorists.

What bothered me a great deal and explained the angst of the movie producers was the part at the end. The main terrorist, before he died, whispered something to a little boy who witnessed the final gun battle. Later, a woman asked what the man had said to the boy. The boy said, "He told me not to be afraid of them--we'll kill them all."

A little bit later, as the Americans are wrapping up, one American agent asks another about what he said to the female agent (Jennifer Garner?) who was crying, before they left for Saudi Arabia to begin the investigation. He said, "Don't worry, we'll kill them all."

There you go! Moral equivalence! They want to kill "them all" and so do we! Who are we to call them evil?

I wanted to take the clue bat to the entire production team.

There are two tiny differences in regard to the Americans and the jihadis in the movie.

The major difference is who each side consider "them all."

The Americans wanted to kill "them all," meaning the actual killers who slaughtered American men, woman, and children.

The Jihadis considered "them all" to mean Americans.

Further, the American wanted to kill "them all" because "they" murdered innocent civilians in a vicious attack. And we'd stop killing them if they left us alone. When our agents killed "them all" they went home.

The jihadis wanted to kill "them all" because "they" are Americans. Actually, the jihadis want to kill "them all" all because "they" are not jihadi-inspired Moslems. Which encompasses the majority of Moslems, of course. So when they killed scores of American civilians, that was just a "good start" and not the end of their killing. And their reasons to kill mean they prefer it if we don't try to kill them in response to their killing of our people--it makes it easier to kill us.

But other than those small differences, we're just the same.

[I made two small spelling edits--a decade later!--since publication.]

Careful About What's Around That Corner

Taiwan under Ma has decided that playing nice with the Chinese will somehow, some way, lead to a future where China and Taiwan are economically linked but Taiwan still retains foreign policy freedom and China does not threaten Taiwan with China's growing military:

In his first 100 days in office, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has turned the corner on years of troubled relations with China.

He has helped arrange a series of high profile meetings between Chinese and Taiwanese leaders, completed a historic agreement on regular flights across the 100-mile-wide (160-kilometer-wide) Taiwan Strait, and opened Taiwan's doors to a sharp increase in mainland tourists.

The moves have been welcomed in Beijing, which contrasts Ma's cooperation to the pro-independence line of predecessor Chen Shui-bian _ a line it said would lead to war if ever acted on. Ma's moves have also been praised in the United States, where his China moderation is seen as the best chance of keeping Washington out of a conflict it is striving to prevent.

The problem is that the lack of Taiwanese movement toward independence does not mean China accepts Taiwan's view of what the future cross-strait relationship would look like:

But for all the enthusiasm over Ma's approach, analysts warn that the bitterness of the past could still return to haunt the volatile western Pacific. Beyond the immediate challenge of conducting complex commercial and political negotiations, the two sides disagree profoundly on Taiwan's future status. Almost 60 years after they split amid civil war, China wants Taiwan to unite with the Communist mainland, while the island of 23 million people wants to continue its de facto independence _ and its hard-won democratic freedoms _ indefinitely.

And China is unwilling to allow any international space that might indicate acceptance of the idea that Taiwan can indefinitely continue their present status:

Taiwan this month launched a bid to join the 16 UN Specialised Agencies instead of seeking membership of the world body itself, in a move generally seen as an olive branch to China. But Beijing said it would not accept the attempted compromise.

"This is simply an isolated event," said Wang Yu-chi, spokesman for President Ma Ying-jeou, adding that Ma's diplomatic truce with Beijing would remained unchanged.

"There is no denying that, overall, the cross-Strait ties have been warming -- as seen in the launching of the first direct flights" in nearly six decades, Wang told AFP.

So China is making no effort to reciprocate Taiwan's policy of warmth and Taiwan says that's just fine. The policy of reaching out to China will continue though China gives up nothing.

And it gets worse from Taiwan's point of view:

Military spending will be 315.2 billion Taiwan dollars (10 billion US), a decline of 10.4 billion Taiwan dollars on this year, the United Daily News said, citing a draft budget pending parliament's approval.

It will account for 17.2 percent of next year's government budget, the report said, but the move has drawn criticism from opposition lawmakers.

"I'm worried that the decline in military expenditures may send a wrong signal to the United States and Japan that Taiwan is short of determination to defend itself against China," said Tsai Huang-lang of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

So Taiwan gets weaker while Chinese determination to absorb Taiwan erodes not one bit.

Yep. China wants Taiwan. Peking would be happy if Taiwan just surrenders so they are happy with Ma's new policy. But Ma can't be warm enough to keep the Chinese from wanting to grab Taiwan if the Taiwanese won't come quietly.

And Taiwan's detente is weakening Taiwanese military strength even as China strengthens its ability to capture Taiwan. And China gives nothing to Taiwan.

This is bad. Taiwan will pay for this policy with their freedom if they don't match their new warmth with a greater ability to keep the Chinese at bay.

UPDATE: Mad Minerva emailed to object that "Taiwan" isn't saying China's lack of reciprocal warmth. "Ma Ying-jeou" is the one fine with it:

But it's truer to say "the Ma Administration says that's just fine." Goodness knows he doesn't speak for everybody on the island, if his plummeting approval rating and all the phone calls to my family from increasingly irate kin and friends over there mean anything. He's only been in office for 100 days.

MM points out the recent opposition mass rally. Point taken. I tend to use the nation name or capital as shorthand for the country as a unit. Old Poli sci training, there. Ma runs Taiwan (you know what I mean) and so is "Taiwan" under that model. I suppose there are Chinese leaders who don't think it is important to reclaim Taiwan, but they don't run China, so "China" wants Taiwan.

If you want far better reporting on Taiwanese internal politics than I can provide, do visit Mad Minerva.

UPDATE: Feel the love from Taiwan!

In an ongoing effort to seek peace with China, Taiwan dropped plans to develop missiles that can cruise to China, media reports said.

An unnamed military official said that Taipei has dropped plans to develop missiles that could travel up to 1000 km. The government made the decision to drop the missile plan after the National Security Council and the Defense Ministry reached the consensus that Taiwan should focus on self-defense rather than develop attack weapons.

I'm sure it is only a matter of time before China responds with similar good will and "moves" all those missiles pointed at Taiwan--by firing them at Taiwan's ports, air fields, air defenses, and command and control facilities, no doubt.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Not So Scary Now

North Korea has relied on the threat of invading South Korea to extort goodies from the West.

I've been happy with talking to North Korea, since I figured as we talked, they'd die. That is, Pyongyang would lose their ability to attack.

Strategypage reports that North Korea is now officially screwed:

U.S. and South Korean military commanders are openly stating their belief that any North Korean invasion would fail. In the past, there was always some hesitation about being this confident. But apparently the readiness and capabilities of the North Korean armed forces have declined so much that even the professionals doubt the north could get very far if they went to war.

Like I wrote, I think the North Koreans have to worry that even their threat to bombard Seoul is eroding. I think South Korea could probably invade the North and carve a safe zone around Seoul, pushing North Korean artillery beyond range of the capital.

Why Is This a Choice?

Vladimir Putin conducted a drive-by shooting against Georgia this August.

They hoped to undermine the government of Georgia to inspire a pro-Russian regime and possibly to intimidate other unwilling members of the so-called "Near Abroad" composed of ex-Soviet provinces. If Moscow could show up the West, it would be bonus territory. And Russians would enjoy the spectacle of pretending to be a great power again, bolstering Putin's pathetic efforts to relive Moscow's glory days when anybody gave a damn about them.

So just what is the point of posing this so-called choice?

Russia's invasion of Georgia presents the West with a difficult choice: Punish Moscow by kicking it out of clubs like the Group of Eight or pursue a strategy of placating it that could invite further bullying in places like Ukraine, the Baltic states or Moldova.

Why is this a debate?

I'm not saying we should embark on a new Cold War. Russia doesn't rate that level of attention. We have an economy eight times as large and they have influence only because of residual Soviet power--especially nuclear missiles--and their position as an energy exporter to Western Europe which relies on Russian oil and gas.

But Russia never belonged in the G-7. We let them in as a favor on the assumption that membership would be earned after admission.

We were wrong. We effed up. We trusted Putin. Don't think of this as punishing Russia as much as it is correcting a past mistake.

I'd at least threaten kicking the Russians out of the G-8 unless they get out of Georgia completely. That has to be our immediate objective. So suspend the Russian membership in the G-8 and hold expulsion over their heads if they don't accept truly neutral observers in place of Russian troops inside Georgia.

Punish Moscow. But just enough to rub their noses in the doo doo they've left on our carpet. We don't need to elevate them to anything more than a very bad dog.

Do you really think Putin's Russia can be placated?

What Was That Question?

Ever since the Russians foolishly held back from seizing all of Georgia in their premeditated attack, I've judged the Russians as essentially losing this war even though they triumphed on the battlefield.

I've asked, what exactly has Russia gained? They have South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but they had those regions before the war. And they will lose much more as a result.

This author notes the outrageous Russian claims about the war. And he makes this important point:

I struggle to see what Russia will gain. It is friendless. Governments and foreign investors alike now know that Moscow’s word is worthless. The price of aggression will be pariah status. Mr Putin, of course, will blame the west.

What has Russia gained from pounding on a new democracy that dared to assert its independence from Moscow?

I mean, other than a short-term false self-esteem boost that will rapidly disappear and leave Russians with that same old "we lost our empire and all I got was this lousy 'Summer in Gori' t-shirt" sense of loss?

Not that those Soviet wannabees don't deserve all the grief they get from this act of aggression.

Last Chance

The Pakistanis are going at the frontier jihadis hammer and tong, even using air power:

Troops backed by helicopter gunships and heavy artillery have for weeks been pounding militant positions in the valley, a former tourist spot that erupted in violence last year when a pro-Taliban cleric declared jihad on Islamabad.

"Fighter jets struck the militants' hideouts in Peochar, killing 22," the security official said, naming the area where the strike hit.

A military spokesman in Swat told AFP that "a core of militants" had perished in the operation.

It's almost as if they know they have a short time frame to deal with frontier before we feel compelled to do the job.

And with supply problems, it can't be a conventional campaign relying on large numbers of our troops. But that does not mean we don't have another option to wage war inside Pakistan.

Better to Be Feared than Liked?

Explain to me again how Russia has won the Russia-Georgia War of 2008?

The Russians are even alienating autocrats who have usually been friendly to Russia:

China and several Central Asian nations rebuffed Russia's hopes of international support for its actions in Georgia, issuing a statement Thursday denouncing the use of force and calling for respect for every country's territorial integrity.

A joint declaration from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization also offered some support for Russia's "active role in promoting peace" following a cease-fire, but overall it appeared to increase Moscow's international isolation.

I'm sure it was the Chinese pushing the Central Asian members of the SCO, who responded by siding with China over Russia. Way to go, Putin!

Why would China stiff arm their Russian semi-client state?

But China has traditionally been wary of endorsing separatists abroad, mindful of its own problems with Tibet and Muslims in the western territory of Xinjiang. The unanimously endorsed joint statement made a point of stressing the sanctity of borders — two days after Russia sought to redraw Georgia's territory.

Yes, those regions are sore points. But the real reason is Taiwan, the main region China considers a separatist problem and a region that China does not now control. I didn't think that China would approve of Russia's action.

The Russians have won a costly tactical victory and are being defeated at the strategic level.

The Russians and their Soviet predecessors acted on the theory it is better to be feared than liked. Russia is finding that without conventional military power, the fear option is not readily available.

And the charm and grace of Putin isn't enough to make up for that lost power.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due

After opposition to night drills nixed those a little while ago, the Taiwanese have carried out the first of required air raid drills:

Traffic stopped and roads emptied in northern Taiwan on Thursday for the new government's first air raid drill, a public reminder that China could attack despite a recent thaw in relations.

Sirens sounded at 2:30 p.m. local time in seven counties and cities, a cue for vehicles to move to the sides of roads and pedestrians to wait in back streets, all practice for a possible attack. Sirens 30 minutes later gave an all-clear to flood the roads and sidewalks again.

So it was day instead of night drills. Actually, I'm fairly impressed at the level of effort. Shutting down cities for even a short time is actually a pretty good level of commitment to defending their island democracy from the looming Chinese threat.


Arthur K. pointed out this National Security Agency page with newly declassified documents.

This looks like it could be worth some browsing time.

Opening the Spigot

Arms sales seemed to be on hold to Taiwan for the duration of the Olympics in Peking. That appears to be over with the announcement of the sale of a batch of air-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles:

Taiwan has acquired 60 Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the United States in a boost of its defence against rival China, the defence ministry here said Thursday.

Hopefully, larger weapons deals will follow quickly. Taiwan has a lot of ground to make up.

One Phone Call to Tehran

I'd guess that Iran just lost an important asset:

An Iraqi official says U.S. forces have arrested Ali al-Lami, a top Shiite in charge of keeping senior supporters of Saddam Hussein out of the government.

We suspect him of being responsible for a Baghdad bombing that killed four Americans and six Iraqis in June.

It is important that we continue to target both Sunnis working for al Qaeda or the Baathists and Shias working for the Sadrists or Iranians so that nobody feels unjustly picked on.

Pants on Fire

The Russians have simply been lying about the war in Georgia from the pre-war to the post-ceasefire. And Russia's nerve to insist that ethnic Russians anywhere are reason to intervene is breathtaking in its implications for stability:

Those in the West who persist in blaming Georgia or the Bush administration for the present crisis ought to carefully consider those words -- and remember the history in Europe of regimes that have made similar claims. This is the rhetoric of an isolated, authoritarian government drunk with the euphoria of a perceived victory and nursing the delusion of a restored empire. It is convinced that the West is too weak and divided to respond with more than words. If nothing is done to restrain it, it will never release Georgia -- and it will not stop there.

And unwilling to just let their lies about their actions stand alone, Putin ups the ante by accusing America of starting the war!

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of orchestrating the Georgian crisis to benefit one of the presidential candidates, a claim the White House calls "patently false."

Face it people, the Russians have more territorial ambitions. The Georgians are suffering now but this is not about Georgia.

When the crisis cools off, we need to ship Georgia weapons to rebuild their military. In the short run, arms could not be used and could compel the Russians to restart the war, so we should be cautious here. But the ultimate goal must be to make Georgia too hard to conquer. Stop Russia in their tracks. And somehow get the Russians to support decent rulers who won't celebrate their paranoia and cruelty.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Back in the Cold War, when Germany was on the front line, we practiced reinforcing NATO in our REFORGER exercises. REFORGER stood for return of forces to Germany. We kept unit sets of equipment for several heavy armored brigades and practiced airlifting the soldiers to fall in on that equipment. It was much faster than sending the unit by sea.

The return of a belligerent Russia means that the age of peace is over in Europe. Which means that the logic of reducing our Army in Europe is blown away, killed in Gori, Georgia under the weight of Russian armor.

I worried about the Russian threat to eastern Europe two years ago and our plans to reduce our Army in Europe:

The only two ground combat brigades to be permanently stationed there will be the separate brigades not associated with any of our divisions: 2nd ACR (Stryker) and 173rd AB Brigade. Other ground combat units will rotate in from CONUS to Bulgaria and Romania (two brigades total?).

One heavy brigade will stay a little longer in Germany than originally planned.

I don't assume this is the last word on how USAREUR will look. Given how Russia is acting lately, how long before Poland and the Baltic states want US troops on the ground?

Not long at all, as it turns out.

Five years ago, I argued in the pages of Military Review that we needed to maintain a corps-sized ground force in Europe (link updated: see my article third in the table of contents) optimized for deploying from bases in western Europe to an arc of crisis from West Africa to Central Asia. Specifically I though elements of our 18th Airborne Corps should be our Europe-based force:

Deploying anything less than a corps in Europe would create a force with no capacity for decisive, sustained action, and such a force would be correctly perceived as nothing more than a token force. A heavy armor capability (from the 1st Infantry Division) to bolster the corps’ light mechanized force and light infantry would be necessary.

It is apparent that the arc of crisis also takes a hard left and extends through the Caucasus, Ukraine, eastern Europe, and the Baltic states. We now need a robust United States Army Europe to cope with the Russians pining for past glory days.

A corps-sized force of five American brigades would be able to rush east along with whatever forces our NATO allies can muster to reinforce eastern European NATO members, should they be threatened by Russia. Our traditional NATO allies must increase their power projection ability, starting with the ability to deploy to eastern Europe by land links rather than their farcical effort to create a force able to deploy globally.

Our new NATO allies in eastern Europe must turn away from building small power projection forces to fight with us abroad in war or peacekeeping missions, and make themselves a hard target that can absorb and defeat a Russian ground attack. These forces must be numerous and designed to defeat conventional massed armored attacks:

Eastern Europeans have to do much more to prepare a robust defense. They should double their military spending to make themselves into porcupine states that even the Russian bear can't swallow.

The U.S. can help, as we helped the Afghans in the 1980s and as the French helped the Poles in 1920. That will require a readjustment in our military assistance strategy, which has been to create in Eastern Europe miniature copies of our own armed forces. Our hope, largely realized, has been that these states will help us in our own military commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But in addition to developing NATO-style expeditionary capacity, these states need to be able to conduct a defense in depth.

That means having large reserves ready for fast call-up and plenty of defensive weapons -- in particular portable missile systems such as the Stinger and Javelin capable of inflicting great damage on Russia's lumbering air and armor forces. That's more important than fielding their own tanks or fighter aircraft. We should offer to sell them these relatively inexpensive defensive systems, and to provide the advisory services to make the best use of them. But the first step has to be for the Eastern Europeans to make a larger commitment to their own defense.

Defending in place should be their job.

In addition to maintaining sufficient forces deployed in Europe able to move east to reinforce the eastern European NATO frontline states, we should establish American, British, and German equipment depots for additional heavy brigades in southern Poland. If we can fly in troops to man these forces, in a return of forces to Poland (REFORPOL) concept, we'd enhance deterrence without forward deploying powerful NATO offensive units that would scare the Russians in reality instead of their faux fear of Georgians and Latvians. Those units could swing north or south or stay put once manned and fielded.

So far, counting on a benign Russia that is a strategic partner, we've extended NATO membership east without extending NATO military strength east in any significant fashion. It is time to correct that mistake. Russia has shown they'll strike at gaps in our defenses. Fill those gaps.

An Appropriate Pretext to Act

You know, even though most of our press has been repeating the line that tiny Georgia started the war that brought them defeat, I kind of ignored it since I don't expect much from our press. The timing of the war, speed of Russia's attack, and history of Soviet practice told me that Russia obviously started the war.

It has been a mistake to ignore this most basic of facts since a number of people argue that we should not help Georgia because "they started it." And our press never corrected this misconception.

So, we need to understand the the Russians are lying through their teeth about this war:

Less than one month before Russia's armed forces entered Georgia on August 8, they held massive military training exercises in the North Caucasus involving 8,000 servicemen and 700 pieces of military hardware.

At center stage in those maneuvers -- which took place in the second half of July, not far from Georgia's border -- was Russia's 58th Army, the very unit that would later play a key role in the incursion.

Those exercises are just one link in a chain of incidents suggesting that Russia's military action in Georgia was planned months in advance, awaiting only an appropriate pretext to act.

Military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says the aim, from the start, was to overthrow Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his pro-Western government.

"This was prepared long ago," Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based military analyst tells RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, adding that according to his information, a decision to go to war was made back in April.

"A decision was made for the war to start in August. The war would have happened regardless of what the Georgians did. Whether they responded to the provocations or not, there would have been an invasion of Georgia," Felgenhauer says. "The goal was to destroy Georgia's central government, defeat the Georgian army, and prevent Georgia from joining NATO."

Russia has planned this for months and Russian-backed militias started the war by attacking Georgians. The Georgians then responded, providing the excuse Russia wanted to start their invasion.

For many, the false idea that Georgia started this war is an appropriate pretext to refuse to act.

The Georgians were the victims, here. The Russians are the guilty party. Act accordingly.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The American Dream

Congratulations to Barack Obama on securing the Democratic nomination for president today.

It is a good thing that there is no barrier to anybody running for president in our country.

I've always thought that the first African-American president would be a Republican because Americans would be wary of any liberal Black candidate. And conservatism would nullify enough suspicions over race to carry the day.

I still think that. But it truly is a good day that any American can run for president.

Looking for a Red Card

Instead of going to Poti, Georgia, where Russian soldiers are lurking, the American Coast Guard ship Dallas docked in Batumi to unload humanitarian supplies:

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas, carrying 34 tons of humanitarian aid, docked in the Black Sea port of Batumi, south of the zone of this month's fighting between Russia and Georgia. The arrival avoided Georgia's main cargo port of Poti, still controlled by Russian soldiers.

The U.S. Embassy in Georgia had earlier said the ship was headed to Poti, but then retracted the statement. Zaza Gogava, head of Georgia's joint forces command, said Poti could have been mined by Russian forces and still contained several sunken Georgian ships hit in the fighting.

Poti's port reportedly suffered heavy damage from the Russian military. In addition, Russian troops have established checkpoints on the northern approach to the city and a U.S. ship docking there could be perceived as a direct challenge.

Meanwhile, Russia's missile cruiser, the Moskva, and two smaller missile boats anchored at the port of Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, some 180 miles north of Batumi. The Russian navy says the ships will be involved in peacekeeping operations.

I recently mentioned that I thought that submarines were not allowed through the Turkish straits, so we wouldn't have any submarines in the Black Sea to support Georgia. I remembered that the Soviet Mediterranean squadron used ships from the Black Sea Fleet and submarines from the Northern Fleet. I thought it was from treaty restrictions on the Dardanelles and Bosporus.

Apparently not, as our naval effort to send supplies to the Georgians indicates:

The vanguard includes the Burke-class destroyer McFaul (pictured) and the armed Coast Guard cutter Dallas. (Another Dallas, a nuclear submarine, is also in the area.) Trailing behind is the command ship Mount Whitney with, reportedly, Polish and Canadian frigates as escorts.

One of our nuclear attack submarines, Dallas, is in the area? That is, in the Black Sea?

So I checked out the provisions of the Montreux Convention:

During peacetime, light surface vessels [defined as warships displacing more than 100 tons but not above 10,000 tons] of all powers may transit the straits after giving prior notice to Turkey as required by the Convention. Turkey may waive the notification requirement if the warships were transiting for the purpose of providing humanitarian assistance. The choice of "light surface vessels" as the largest warship allowed through the straits effectively kept the new German "pocket battleships" out of the Black Sea -- a primary goal of the Soviet negotiators.

Capital ships of Black Sea powers may transit the straits provided that they did so in accordance with the Convention. The Black Sea powers (the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Romania) had two additional options, one involving submarines and the other permitting their "capital ships" with a tonnage greater than 10,000 to transit the straits.

The Convention applies specific individual and aggregate tonnage and numbers limits. These limitations effectively preclude the transit of capital ships and submarines of non-Black Sea powers through the Straits, unless exempted under Article 17. Article 17 of the Convention permits a naval force of any tonnage or composition to pay a courtesy visit of limited duration to a port in the straits, at the invitation of the Turkish Government. In such instances, the tonnage and numbers limitations of the Convention do not apply. Warships of non-Black Sea powers may not remain in the Black Sea longer than 21 days.

So it seems that we aren't supposed to have submarines in the Black Sea under routine circumstances. So Turkey must have invited us. And we aren't supposed to linger for more than 21 days. Even though we never signed the treaty, we observe it.

So it is interesting that such a small NATO armada is sailing into the Black Sea, given the treaty limits.

I wonder how we could maintain a naval presence in the Black Sea without running afoul of treaty limits? Would three-week deployments make sense? Can we get the treaty revised to base our light forces there permanently in Romanian and Bulgarian ports?

Certainly, the Russians have remembered the treaty:

Although Western nations have called the Russian military presence in Poti a clear violation of an European Union-brokered cease-fire, a top Russian general has called using warships to deliver aid "devilish."

Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned that NATO has already exhausted the number of forces it can have in the Black Sea, according to international agreements, and warned Western nations against sending more ships.

"Can NATO — which is not a state located in the Black Sea — continuously increase its group of forces and systems there? It turns out that it cannot," Nogovitsyn was quoted as saying Wednesday by the Interfax news agency.

Actually, that just telegraphs Russian weakness. They're appealing to the referee to call a foul? What? The ancient Moskva can't handle our Coast Guard?

The Black Sea is no Russian lake. And their position won't be saved with a Red Card kicking our ships out.

Still, it would help to brush up on your obscure treaties.

Rally 'Round the Ruble, Boys!

Can Russia restart the Cold War a generation after the Soviet Union collapsed?

Russia is already playing the Georgia card in trying to intimidate their neighbors. The most obvious country under threat is Ukraine (Thanks to Ben H. for the link):

Ukraine fears it could be the next target of Russia's campaign to reassert influence over countries it long dominated in the Soviet Union, with Moscow well placed to foment separatist feelings in its Russian-speaking regions. ...

Analysts say the Crimea region in southern Ukraine could be used by Russia to destabilise Ukraine. It hosts Russia's Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol and the majority of people living there are ethnic Russians.

Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine could also provide fertile ground, the analysts say.
Chumak said Russia could take advantage if Ukrainian politicians failed to resolve their differences and continued to let legislation slide. Yushchenko and his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, have sparred over almost all policy decisions since she came to power in December.

"In that situation then Russia will start playing games, start provoking Ukraine, especially with Crimea," he said.

Ukraine lacks a military able to stop a Russian incursion. Only sheer size may save them in the short run.

Ukraine has reason to worry, but after stomping incompletely on little Georgia, the Russians aren't ready to take on the far larger Ukraine. For now, the Russians puff up and yell at Moldova over the Trans-Dniester region:

Trans-Dniester, a long strip of territory on Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine, broke away from Moldova in 1990 and a war between Moldovan forces and separatists in 1992 left 1,500 people dead.

It is not recognized internationally, but is supported by Russia, which has 1,500 troops stationed there to guard weapons storage facilities left by the Soviet military.

Kuzmin said Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia because of "Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia," and said, "Moldova should draw its own positive conclusions after the conflict in South Ossetia."

"It is simply impossible ... to have Moldova behave in a similar way to Georgia," he said in Russian.

"I believe that (in Moldova) the leaders will use their wisdom ... to not allow such a bloody and catastrophic trend of events" here, he said.

But he added he was glad "there is no intention to escalate the situation in the security zone (a demilitarized area along the Dniester River) and I believe that there shouldn't be any."

Russia's President Medvedev met with Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin on Monday in the Black Sea port of Sochi to discuss Trans-Dniester.

Putin will have trouble restarting the Soviet Union even against Moldova notwithstanding their poke at Georgia.

Far reduced military power is the least of his problems, actually. The Soviet Union not only had the military power but the internal control to be aggressive. To each according to their need and from each according to their ability meant that the Soviets could tell Russians they needed nothing and would take whatever the party needed to be a superpower.

Today, internal power is not as neat. Oligarchs believe that their rules are to them according to their wants and from each of them according to their political influence.

The oligarchs are checking their bank accounts while Putin is having his mid-life crisis, tooling around the Causasus in his shiny red T-80:

Oh, to be a fly on the wall next month at the annual "summit" of Russia's richest capitalists and Vladimir Putin. Will the oligarchs tell the modern-day czar, "Bravo on invading Georgia!" Or might they whisper, "Watch out what you do to our economy." The latter would be smarter.

Soviet leaders during the cold war never had to deal with pesky capitalists when they rolled tanks into other countries. In today's Russia, Mr. Putin may sit on gushers of oil money and he has co-opted the business class to his authoritarian rule, but he must still live with Adam Smith's invisible hand.

Markets do react to unpleasant facts, such as other peoples' fear and resentment of Russian bullying. And since the invasion, markets have sent a clear signal of Nyet. Many investors – both foreign and domestic – are fleeing Russia. Its currency reserves and stock market have plunged in recent weeks. And that's on top of the West's warning that relations with Russia will not be "business as usual."

Don't believe we have no leverage over Russia. Our military can handle them if push comes to shove, but all our military has to do is contain them.

And a key player to work on will be the Russian oligarchs who, rather than rallying around the flag as Putin struts shirtless in the Near Abroad, are concerned about their profits.

UPDATE: The G-7 nations condemned the Russians:

The United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Japan and Italy said Russia's decision to recognize the Georgian rebel territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states violated the territorial integrity of its small, Western-leaning neighbor.

"Russia's decision has called into question its commitment to peace and security in the Caucasus," the counties' foreign ministers said in a statement. "We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia."

As an economic body, rather than a military body like NATO or a pointless chattering body like the EU, the G-7 statement implies economic consequences.

Heading for the Exits

Leaving Iraq a year ago--even"responsibly"--just as our surge was starting to smash up al Qaeda and the Sadrists would have condemned Iraqis to violence and mayhem.

Leaving Iraq now with Iraqi stronger no longer means we are retreating.

The Iraqis are a little too confident of their ability to hold off Syrian and Iranian meddling in the short run, but the trend is certainly good. So the Iraqis are urging us out a little faster:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dug in his heels Monday on the future of the U.S. military in Iraq, insisting that all foreign soldiers leave the country by a specific date in 2011 and rejecting legal immunity for American troops.

Despite the tough words, al-Maliki's aides insisted a compromise could be found on the two main stumbling blocks to an accord governing the U.S. military presence in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.

Give Maliki a break so his rhetoric can calm a population that may not appreciate the difficulties Iraq faces as the Iraqis celebrate their victories over their internal enemies. The Iraqis can take justifiable pride in the improvement of their security forces. But it is easy for them to forget our role in getting Iraq to that position. But Iraq's leaders know better.

It's all about crafting words, I think. In the end, we'll pull out of combat except for special forces and fire support, but keep troops and aircraft there for years to protect Iraq from internal enemies trying to win outside of the democratic process and to protect Iraq from external enemies until the Iraqi military can take on that role.

Iraq is standing up. This is a welcome sign and not one to worry about.

Turning 300 Million Americans

When the surge was first working last summer, public opinion at first did not yet recognize the progress.

Now the public thinks the war on terror is being won, and the public's opinion supports the view that the situation in 6 months inside Iraq will be better.

Yet public opinion is now divided on whether in the long run the war in Iraq will be considered worth the cost. Not yet, anyway.

Each component of opinion on the war drags along related opinion regarding the war eventually.

If we nail down this accumulating victory in Iraq, in time we will think the war in Iraq was worth it.

Getting What We Wanted

The school year is almost upon us and I've yet to write about my very proud dad moments of the spring. The 2008 Science Fair was a grand day, indeed, for me.

After last year, when Mister won the humongous 4th-Grade trophy, Lamb informed me that she wanted one, too. Oh boy. I had to come up with a 5th-grade project and a kindergarten project.

So this spring I had to face the pressure. Mister had won in third grade and in fourth grade. He'd surely like another win. And Lamb had trophy fever.

For Mister, we made an experiment that did not involve glue drying. Last year, that really slowed us down in repeating the experiment. We did it, but boy was that tense with the deadline looming. So this year we did an experiment with friction. Mister dragged a wood object across various surfaces using a pulley and string, measuring how many pennies it took to get the object to move across the same length of different surfaces.

Mister could do it all. This year my support was limited to the idea, building the actual display, and formatting what Mister typed. And I probed him with questions about the experiment to get fuller statements on the results.

Mister worked very hard on his project and he maxed out on the points. But after three years, other students learned to max out as well. Apparently, the judging went back and forth between his project and another boy's project. The other boy won. Mister was a friend of that boy and wasn't disappointed too much. I told him I was very proud of how well he did. He won a first prize ribbon but no trophy this time, which only went to the top project in each grade. The project that won was certainly very good and it really was a toss-up as to which one was better. What I'm glad about is that projects obviously done by parents were not rewarded with prizes.

For Lamb, this was the first time I had to make an experiment that a 5-year-old could understand. It worked out well, with Lamb's kindergarten teacher complimenting me for making an experiment that she could understand. What we did was take 3 different types of balls (a super ball, a soft rubber ball, and a hard plastic ball, all about the same size) and tested to see which one would bounce the highest. Lamb predicted the order of "bouncy-ness" and I built a tower with an adjustable ramp and gate to hold the balls plus another tower, both using cardboard wrapping paper tubes, with three Styrofoam cups embedded in it. Lamb color coded the three cups and I made a simple data sheet for each ball with boxes color coded to match the cups.

The idea was to adjust the tower ramp height so that all three balls would bounce into one of the three cups (high, medium, and low). I thought this would be a problem but actually it worked quite well. After I showed Lamb how to do the experiment, Lamb ran each ball three times and each time the super ball went high, the rubber ball went medium, and the plastic ball went low. Lamb was even able to translate the experiment results to the data sheets and understand what that meant about how high the balls bounced. At one point I thought she didn't quite get the experiment when she ran over to look at the tower to double check the cup colors, but when I noticed the tower was actually upside down, I felt better. I flipped the tower and she clearly got it.

Lamb also wanted me to include the towers in the display, which I hadn't planned to do, but in the end her idea was good. The display looked much better with the two towers on either side. I used pink poster board for background and I had to type the display of course. But I used a question and answer format where I asked Lamb about the various stages of the experiment and recorded Lamb's answers. I wanted to make sure she understood what we were doing and I wanted her to do as much as possible. I did not want to be one of those parents who just does the experiment while their child is off playing video games. But as a kindergarten student, she just couldn't do a lot of the work on her own. So I had to balance what she could do and what I needed to do.

Two days before the projects were due, when I brought both projects to heir mom's house, Lamb's mom gave me some heartburn by worrying that writing about what I did in the text minimized Lamb's role. I worried all the next day and night. I did replace the computer-made graph with one that Lamb had to hand make, in response to her worries.

The night before turning the projects in, Mister touched me by telling me that he sure hoped Lamb would win the trophy. No mention of his desire to win. He was concerned for his little sister. He is such a good boy. That made me more proud than all his hard work on the science project.

As luck would have it, I took the kids in to school the day of the science fair and stuck around for the award ceremony early in the day, before going to work. The principal saw me and told me it was a good day for me to stick around. I wandered the halls and found Mister's project with a maximum score and blue ribbon. Cool! And then I found Lamb's project on the stage. She won the class trophy! I was so pleased for Lamb.

I was a bit disappointed for Mister, realizing that since his project was not on the stage he did not win a trophy. But he did so well that I made sure I hugged him and commended him for his ribbon when he came into the auditorium.

I had only a moment of worry for Lamb when the students were called up to get their trophies and to explain something about the project. Uh oh! I hadn't prepared Lamb for this. I feared she'd be lost and make it seem like I did the project! That would be so unfair, I thought. And with Lamb going first, she wouldn't have the chance to hear the older students talk to get an idea.

After waving to me when the teacher pointed me out in the back, the teacher gave her the trophy and asked the question. My heart stopped at that moment, even as my eyes brimmed with tears of pride. She should have a future with no boundaries to what she can achieve and this recognition of her abilities was important to me--especially since she is the youngest in her class.

I needn't have worried. Lamb started out, "Well" and paused in thought. My worry broke. No shyness at all there. Then she explained that when she rolled the colorful rubber ball down the ramp to bounce into the cup, she was surprised that it didn't bounce higher.

She nailed it! And nobody in that auditorium could have any doubt that Lamb conducted the experiment and understood it completely.

The scoring sheet itself said that the project had all the elements of a prize-winning effort and that the student was obviously involved in conducting the experiment. Darn straight.

Lamb displays her trophy after the awards presentation:

In the end, we all got what we wanted. I wanted my kids to work hard on their projects. I explained to Lamb that I was happy she won but that I was proud of how hard she worked.

Lamb won her trophy just like her brother had.

Mister got his wish for his sister and won a prize himself.

And I was so pleased that Mister put his sister first in his expressed wishes. More parental pride. I have good children.

Of course, the pressure is still on for new projects in the new year.

Supplying the Good War

I've noted several times that I don't think it is a good idea to surge too many troops to Afghanistan.

First, our objectives don't require that kind of effort. Second, our main problem is in Pakistan where al Qaeda and the Taliban have a sanctuary. And third, our supply lines are too tenuous to risk many more troops than we have there now.

Our supply line through Pakistan is at risk with unrest in Pakistan, which could see a coup in response to instability in the civilian government.

But don't worry, our alternate supply line runs through Russia:

Moscow does not plan to suspend NATO's use of Russian land routes to transit non-military supplies and equipment to the alliance's troops in Afghanistan, Russia's NATO envoy said Tuesday.

We can trust those lying sacks of paranoid and cruel excrement not to interfere with our forces in Afghanistan, right?

Aren't you glad we don't have 140,000 troops in Afghansitan right now?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Standard Operating Procedures

The Soviet Union never planned to invade NATO. Moscow always planned to blunt the NATO invasion of the Warsaw Pact and begin the counter-offensive all the way to the Rhine about 1 minute after the NATO offensive kicked off.

So when I first heard of the Russian invasion of Georgia, I never suspected the Georgians of starting the war. Repeated newspaper articles said Georgia initiated the war, but I knew that was silly. The war started at the beginning of the Olympics. The Russian "counter-offensive" kicked off less than a day after the so-called Georgian offensive. And I knew my Soviet history on this score.

So when the Russians read from the old Soviet play book, my blood pressure goes up:

Vitaly Churkin said Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's attack on South Ossetia created a "new reality" that negated U.N. resolutions guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Georgia.

Nearly three weeks later, the Russians still maintain the lie that they just happened to be capable of responding in hours to rescue their noble allies in South Ossetia.

Sadly, our press hasn't caught on.

Michael Totten sets the record straight:

Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.

The Russians have been seriously torquing me off for several years now. Their stupidity is matched only by their nuclear arsenal in lethality.

They could have been our friend after the Cold War. We even allowed them the fiction that Russia was separate from the communists who ran the Soviet Union, letting the Russians off the hook for the decades of murder and repression that Moscow conducted.

NATO cut its defenses so much that it can barely support a minor war in Afghanistan let alone pull off an invasion of Russia. Yet Russia pretends the West is a military threat looming over them.

Just as Russia pretended Georgia was a threat to Russia.

Russia isn't strong enough to justify becoming our main enemy once again. Which will probably annoy the Russians, actually. But we can't let the Russians get away with this attempted regime change in Georgia. If we fail to contain the Russians today over Georgia, they'll test our will power somewhere else tomorrow.

No war. But no peace.

And for God's sake, understand what Russia has done and don't blame this war on Georgia (or Bush).

Another Step In

After successfully landing supplies in the more remote port of Batumi by one of our guided missile destroyers, we are sending a Coast Guard ship to Poti where the Russians are watching closely:

As the West focused on Russia's effort to shift Georgia's internationally recognized borders, the Kremlin denounced the U.S. use of a Navy destroyer and Coast Guard cutter named the Dallas to deliver aid to Georgia's Black Sea coast.

"Normally battleships do not deliver aid," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dryly told reporters in English, apparently confusing the word "warship" with "battleship."

Earlier Tuesday, the United States said it intends to deliver humanitarian aid by ship on Wednesday to the beleaguered Georgian port city of Poti, which Russian troops still control through checkpoints on the city's outskirts.

Lavrov is a bit confused. He thinks we give a damn about his opinion on this issue.

We keep taking more steps to demonstrate our support to Georgia in order to keep Russia from restarting the war. Each gradual step places us more firmly inside Georgia, increasing the price Russia would have to pay if they risk striking our forces or people on humanitarian and rebuilding missions. Eventually, we'll rebuild the Georgian military to defend Georgian territory.

Russia has not won this war. I don't get why anybody thinks Russia achieved any objective they did not already have.

Peace Through Strength

In my home town, it is not uncommon to see white on blue "peace" signs. They were up before we invaded Iraq and overthrew the Baathist scum. And they've remained up as we've defended Iraq against Baathist, jihadi, and Sadrist scum.

It has always annoyed me that we were considered to be the violators of peace by attacking Saddam's regime; yet when the Baathists, jihadis, and Sadrists attacked the legitimate Iraqi government and our forces helping that government, we were still the violators of that peace.

Yet the anti-war side has kept their moral edge since who can oppose "peace"?

The problem is, the anti-war side's chant of "peace" just means "defeat for America."

Once upon a time, Americans instinctively wanted "peace" but knew that peace could only be a good peace when it followed victory. These Americans in Paris celebrating VJ Day understood the linkage between victory and peace (They are carrying newspapers with the headline "PEACE"):

Can our Left ever understand this simple message? How did "peace" come to mean our defeat in their minds?

If I can find a larger picture that doesn't lose clarity I'll replace the small image. I saw this in my April issue of Army magazine and just did a quick search online.

What is Not to Be Done

The Western response to the rise of Imperial Russia that is nuclear armed, pining for past glory, paranoid, militarily fragile yet with residual power sufficient to overpower isolated neighbors, demographically declining, and reliant on energy exports, is still in its infancy.

All we know for sure right now is that Russia has declared they are not our strategic partner. Yet they may one day be a critical partner for containing China. Russia is the Angry Sick Man of Europe. We must prop them up even as we contain them. This is a delicate mission, to say the least.

Arthur K., who is in no mood to coddle the Russians, sent me the link to this article by Spengler arguing that Russia's demographics mean they need to absorb the Russians in the so-called near abroad to keep from entering a death spiral of population decline. So Spengler says me must make a deal with Moscow since Russia will do what it takes to kidnap those ethnic Russians:

My proposal is simple: Russia's help in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East is of infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the "Orange" revolution of 2004 and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia's assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia's existential requirements in the near abroad. Anyone who thinks this sounds cynical should spend a week in Kiev.

Russia has more to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran than the United States, for an aggressive Muslim state on its borders could ruin its attempt to Russify Central Asia.

Even if there was evidence that those Russians abroad are reproducing faster than Russians inside Russia, this would be a bad idea to accept.

First, if Russians would only regain faith in the future, maybe Russians in Russia would reverse the demographic crash. And if Russia embarks on a couple generations of war to reclaim declining ethnic Russians abroad, where will faith in the future come from? And when Russia runs out of declining Russians to stave of collapse, won't they just move on to any Slavs? And then any Europeans or Asians? I'm just not convinced when I'm told that at Point A, Moscow will have no more territorial ambitions.

Also, I recall in the early 1980s reading a French author's study of Russification under the Soviet Union (Yes, it was as dull as it sounds. But well argued and documented. Oddly, a preppy Soviet (He really tied a sweater around his neck!) was rather upset when he saw me reading it in the video arcade I worked in. Luckily for me, he did not remember me when he became my TA for my last year of Russian language classes! And he sublet in my fraternity that summer to round out the oddness.) when it still ruled the near abroad. It was called Decline of an Empire. That study did not paint a good picture of the future of Russification in any non-Russian area other than Moldavia. What makes anyone think that the Russians would have better luck in the future if they reconquer their near abroad that has lived independent for a generation already?

Besides, why would we abandon our soft power appeal to the oppressed in various autocracies for the false appeal of appeasing the paranoid Russians? Who would trust that we would defend them if they rise up if we abandon the Ukrainians for Russian aid with Iran?

And if anyone thinks that it is wise to count on Russian help for energy security, spend a week during the winter in Berlin.

Ultimately, however, the very concept of realpolitik argues against a deal that trades our abandonment of Ukraine to the tender mercies of dismemberment by Moscow for Moscow's help in keeping Iran from getting atomic weapons. This is an inherently unbalanced deal. Consider that keeping Iran from getting atomic weapons is by definition an ongoing operation. As long as the mullahs want nukes, we'd have to work to stop them. But once Moscow seizes eastern Ukraine to absorb ethnic Russians, the deed is done. If we made the trade, what would stop the Russians from demanding our agreement to the despoiling of yet another country for continued help in keeping Iran from going nuclear? Where would the blackmail stop?

Besdies, if keeping Iran from going nuclear is more in Russia's interest than ours, why would we trade anything of importance to get the Russians to do what they should do anyway? If we must hand over Ukraine to get Russia to do something they should want to do anyway, what would we have to give up to get the Russians to concede something they hold dear?

Spengler's solution is both simple and simply awful. We are faced with the Angry Sick Man of Europe. Which means we must both stop their aggression and keep them from declining lest China sweep into the vaccum of Russia's total collapse. This is no problem solvable with a silver bullet of a single betrayal of a nation and our values.

We must contain the aggressive Russians and support the reasonable ones until the time comes when Russians are no longer paranoid about the West and self-destructive in their drive to regain their anti-Western Soviet glory days at the expense of their future as the frontline of the West.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tranlate This Into Chinese

Russian relations with the West are strained over the whole Russian-Georgian War of 2008. The Russians may be eager to strain them more:

Russia's parliament unanimously approved on Monday resolutions calling for the recognition of two rebel regions of Georgia as independent states, a move likely to worsen already strained relations with the West.

Yet it isn't just the West that Russia is alienating. Given the sensitivity of the Chinese to any province splitting from the mother country, one has to wonder what the Chinese are saying to the Russians over this move to encourage such a split.

Heck, I wonder if the Taiwanese become one of the first to recognize their independence? Even though we wouldn't care for it, given that Taiwanese recognition would be purely symbolic, might we not just ignore such a statement from Taipei?

Explain to me again what Russia has gained from their war? I mean other than those jewels of the Caucasus, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Agony of Defeat

America took first with 110 and China took second with 100, although China surpassed us in gold medals. The Russians took third place in the Olympics medal count, with 72.

Given the whining that Moscow has been forcing us to endure over their well-deserved loss of empire, I had a laugh when I realized that if you added in all the former bits of the former Soviet Union, the old USSR would have won with 179 medals.

I'm sorry, but that cracked me up. Heh.

Stepping in Carefully

One must be careful when confronting a rabid, wounded bear. We don't want a fight, since Russia has nukes and one can never tell when paranoia will lead to irrational decisions; but we don't want to let the bear just maul anyone that gets in their way. So I figured we need to gradually insert our presence in low-key ways between Georgia and Russia until it becomes unthinkable for a calm Russian to restart the war and take Georgia completely.

America has taken another step to get our forces inside Georgia to stand between the Georgians and the Russians:

The guided missile destroyer USS McFaul, loaded with 72 pallets of humanitarian aid, is the first of five American ships scheduled to arrive this week.

The ship sailed to Batumi rather than Poti where Russians are camped outside the port city, so there should be no sight of American military personnel encountering Russian. But the symbol was not lost on the Georgians who received a boost at the sight of a modern American warship in their port:

"It's highly important for us here to have representatives of the navy of our biggest friend, the U.S.," Kezerashvili said. "This is a signal to the Russians, and the signal is: We are not alone. The world is with us."

The commander of the five-ship U.S. task force, Navy Capt. John Moore, downplayed the significance of a destroyer bringing aid. "We really are here on a humanitarian mission," he said.

It doesn't matter that we are downplaying our role. The ship sends the message without any elaboration.

And the sight of American ships in the Black Sea kind of freaked out the Russians:

The deputy chef of Russia's general staff suggested Saturday that the arrival of the McFaul and other NATO members ships would increase tensions in the Black Sea. Russia shares the sea with NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria as well as Georgia and Ukraine, another ex-Soviet whose pro-Western president also is leading a drive for NATRO membership.

"I don't think such a buildup will foster the stabilization of the atmosphere in the region," Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn as saying.

Like I said, base some warships in Romania and Bulgaria if those new NATO countries agree. The Littoral Combat Ship, when built, would be a nice force with occasional visits by Expeditionary Strike Groups (without the submarine, which I believe are banned by treaty from going through the Turkish straits) paying port calls to Ukraine and Georgia, I should think.

Perhaps the next step will be American demining experts with plenty of experience in Iraq. The Georgians could use that help, it seems:

In central Georgia, an oil train exploded and caught fire, sending plumes of black smoke into the air.

A Georgian official said the train hit a land mine and blamed the explosion on Russian forces, who withdrew from the area Friday. The Russian Defense Ministry declined to comment, saying it was not clear what happened.

And even if this is an isolated event and not part of a pattern of Russian vindictiveness, we should take the opportunity to send such military personnel in.

Even as the Georgians gain strength from our presence and gain anger at the Russians from Russia's continued presence inside Georgia and their cruel destruction on their way out (partially), the Ukrainians, too, have drawn a lesson from the episode:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on Sunday joining the NATO alliance was vital to securing the country's defense.

Marking 17 years of Ukrainian independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yushchenko said Ukraine must also increase its own defenses -- a clear swipe at Russia which unnerved former Soviet republics when it sent troops into Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

NATO membership and the ability to fight an invasion are the correct lessons to digest.

As time passes, it is possible that Russia's invasion of Georgia will lead those ex-Soviet colonies that seek our friendship to rethink their position and cave to Russian demands. Which is why the months and years ahead will be crucial to making sure that these countries can count on our friendship and their own military to keep the bear at bay.

One caution is in order on Georgia even though I think they should be brought into NATO and their military rebuilt and reoriented. The Georgians have to know that NATO can't help them if they start another adventure to recapture Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Yes, Russia baited the Georgians and I think would have invaded Georgia even if Georgia hadn't taken the bait. But the Georgians were dumb enough to take the bait.

Georgia must take their effort to regain their lost regions to the diplomatic and economic level. Make their country a hard target with democracy and prosperity that will make it appealing to rejoin Georgia rather than join the new Sick Angry Man of Europe.

We need to make sure everyone takes careful steps. But we need to take those steps forward to erase the gray areas that tempt the Russians to strike and erase the temptation of new NATO allies to drag us into unwise wars.

The Sick Angry Man of Europe

Americans need to stop excusing Russia's bad behavior. Much like the German army complained of a stab in the back following the World War I Armistice, Russia today is claiming betrayal by the West and America in particular.

That thinking is hogwash:

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States and Europe eagerly embraced Russia's young democracy. Western economic aid to Russia totaled $55 billion from 1992 to 1997 (not counting private charity). While some aid was conditioned on the continuation of market-oriented economic reforms, none of it was tied to political demands for a formal condemnation of the Soviet legacy. Russia was not required to dump the Lenin mummy from the mausoleum in Moscow, to put former party apparatchiks or KGB goons on trial, or to restrict their ability to hold government posts and run for public office. Nor was it forced to pay reparations to victims of Soviet aggression, or surrender territories such as the Kuril Islands, seized from Japan after World War II.

Read the whole thing, as the saying goes. I swear, after we won the Cold War under the premise that we were not going to let the Soviets dominate their neighbors, some in the West are eager to throw away that victory by arguing that it is natural that Russia should dominate their neighbors.

We were too easy on Russia after 1991, the way the Allies were too easy on Germany after 1918:

Russia isn't a part of the West because Russia's leaders lately have been a bunch of a-holes. Right now I'm glad we've pushed NATO east as fast as possible. Russia has a lot further to go if it ever rebuilds its military and that alone will deter the Russians. I seriously get an eerie inter-war feel for the whole situation.

You know, the common wisdom is that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Imperial Germany after World War I, which led to the rise of Hitler. When you compare the occupation, dismemberment, and de-Nazification of Germany after 1945 which created a prosperous and democratic allied Germany, you have to conclude that the Allies weren't nearly harsh enough in 1918.

And since 1991, we've treated the Russians with kid gloves, and now they too think they've been betrayed and deny they were really defeated in the Cold War. Now the Russians pretend they were being reasonable and just voluntarily gave up their empire. Of course, occupying Russia and de-Commiefying Moscow was never going to happen. We didn't have much choice at the time since Russia still had lots of working nukes. But the result has been a Russia that increasingly acts like they want to be our enemy.

And about a week later, Russia invades Georgia.

We just left the "former" Soviet communists in positions of power to nurse grievances and pine for the past. And now we've got Putin, who nursed those grievances and popularized the "stab in the back" theory:

The September 2007 Naval Institute Proceedings included a disturbing article by Norman Friedman who asked it Putin was resurrecting the stab-in-the-back theory of post-World War I Germany to explain away their Cold War defeat and (not by design, but by effect) pave the way for round two to restore their glory.

In 1945, we destroyed and dismembered Germany, digging the Nazis out by the root and forcing Germany into the West. Granted, with the ex-Soviet Union's nuclear weapons we could not do the same thing to post-Soviet Russia, but the problem with Russia is Russia--and not our actions toward them since 1989.

Now we have to figure out what to about the Russia Question: An angry sick man of Europe that has nuclear weapons and enough residual conventional power to threaten small neighbors, whose potential for collapse is as disquieting as their aggressive stance.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Building That Bridge from the 21st Century

If you have any doubts that Russia is pining for the glory days of the Soviet Union when Western leaders trembled when Russians pounded their shoes on the table, look no further than this:

Russia, once the island's top economic benefactor and military ally, has hinted at re-establishing a military presence in Cuba in a tit-for-tat for U.S. activities in Eastern Europe, including plans for a missile defense system, they said.

"Russia is clearly irritated at what it perceives as U.S. meddling in its neighborhood," said Cuba expert Phil Peters at the Lexington Institute in Virginia. "It seems to be sending a message that if you play on our periphery, we'll play in yours."

At the risk of "humiliating" the Russians with my disdain, I say they're welcome to come back.

I welcome Russian investment of their scarce resources in a government that is so weak that Russian aid will merely make Cuba a slightly smaller basket case.

Russian aid to Cuba made sense in the context of the Cold War when a Russian outpost on our sea lines of communication from Gulf of Mexixo ports to NATO Europe ran right by Cuba. A Cuba that could try to interdict our shipping should the Soviets have invaded NATO would have been very valuable to the Soviets even if all that interdiction did was tie down our naval and air power in our backyard. Had the interdiction slowed our reinforcements to Europe or sank some of the ships, all the better.

But today? Give me a break. Besides, as the article notes, I doubt the Cubans are foolish enough to trust the Russians after being abandoned by them once.

Now We Have a Post-War Problem

The Russians have pulled back from their forward positions where they could threaten to renew the war quickly; but are still dug in way beyond where we think they should be:

Georgian troops were back in control of the country's main East-West highway on Saturday after Russian forces pulled back, but Washington condemned the Kremlin for keeping a force in Georgia's heartland.

Russia says it will permanently station what it calls peacekeeping troops deep inside Georgia -- a step it says is to prevent new bloodshed and which the United States has branded a violation of a ceasefire deal.

Russian forces would continue to patrol the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, a senior defense official said, potentially giving Moscow a stranglehold over trade.

Now we start to rebuild the Georgian military to resist Russian conventional invasion, bolster their people and political institutions to stand up to Russia, and work on pressuring the Russians to get out of their outposts deep in Georgia.

The objective is not to move the troops in Abhazia and South Ossetia, of course. Those regions are beyond hope and it would be foolish to encourage Georgians to believe they can regain them by force. Just refuse to accept the legality of the move and hope that in the fullness of time, these breakaway regions will understand why it is foolish to try to get into Russia when so many are trying to get away from Russia.

Russia is now a problem, but don't inflate their power. We can manage them as long as we aren't confused by the purported souls of the Russian leaders.

And as an aside, can't we stoke some grievances in nominal President Medvedev over the obvious leadership role that Prime Minister Putin has shown in the war?

Biased Media Buts

In the last year and especially the last few months, the media has begun to report on success in Iraq. While this is an improvement over the almost uniformly negative reporting, it has retained the shadings of the past coverage that assumed defeat.

That is, whenever the report is about a success or some progress, the reporter almost invariably adds the "but ...". Like, "Casualties are down, but [insert reason] this is fragile and could unravel, leading Iraq back to the death spiral."

Which is fine, I suppose. Some caution is appropriate in reporting. Surely, we could yet lose despite very good indicators of victory.

What annoys me is that back when the media was reporting on escalating violence and casualties, never once did I read or hear "but, even though we appear to be losing, because of [insert reason] there is reason to hope that American forces and our Iraqi friends will learn to cope with this problem and emerge victorious in the end."

There was never a big but when the press said we were losing. I disagree with the idea we were losing, but even accepting their judgment, why didn't they offer the "but" line the way they do now when we are winning?

It's all about biased media buts, in my opinion.

One Hundred Yards To Go

Our role in Iraq is declining as far as military action is concerned but is still necessary to fully win the war:

"Our ticket out of here was to develop Iraqi security forces. That has been accomplished," declared Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who commands 25,000 Marines and sailors in Iraq's western Anbar province."

On a day-to-day basis, very seldom do they actually need us," he said of the Iraqi army and police units operating across his huge sector.

Speaking broadly of the nearly 5 1/2 -year U.S. war in Iraq, Kelly said in a recent telephone interview that "we're in the last 10 yards of this thing" but that only "economic development and jobs" can finish it, echoing the view of counterinsurgency warfare expressed by Gen. David Petraeus and others.

Kelly boasted of the prowess of the U.S.-trained and equipped Iraq army and police in Anbar. "I believe I could walk out of here tomorrow and these guys would do okay," he said.

And we can see the Iraqis taking on more of a dominant battlefield role, from the Mosul operation starting last December to the spring battles in Basra and Baghdad and points in between, and now in Diyala:

But as Diyala province shows, the war isn't over. Although violence overall in Iraq has declined dramatically over the past year, this ethnically and religiously mixed province north of the capital has remained stubbornly violent.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders say they are determined to tame it, while employing new tactics that require the increasingly confident Iraqis to rely less than before on the firepower of their American allies.

We've done our job on the battlefield by reducing and atomizing the enemy so that Iraqi forces rather than US forces can handle the disordered and reduced gangs, insurgents, and terrorists. And we provided the training and the time to make Iraqi security forces capable of handling the role with less US help.

Kelly has it right, the final 10 yards are the toughest, as I wrote here and here (Although I spoke of the last 100 yards as the old infantry saying has it. Perhaps Kelly was thinking football):

If we can't maintain a long-term presence, we risk losing as we did in Vietnam when our home front refused to go the last few steps for victory after a long journey at high cost in blood and treasure. The surge cannot provide quick victory for a counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign.

War supporters do not wish to repeat Vietnam's tragic legacy of betrayal to our troops and our ally. The Left may, with equal parts historical ignorance and defensive outrage, protest this characterization of their opposition to the Vietnam War; but they have also claimed, with some justification, that we blew Afghanistan by ignoring it after the Soviets were defeated. And while I have never doubted that most of the anti-war side genuinely (if wrongly) believed that we could not win in Iraq and therefore we should accept defeat there sooner rather than later, now that victory is in sight, would it kill them to support American victory rather than ensure defeat by failing in the last part of the war?

The last hundred yards of advance for the infantry is supposed to be the toughest because of enemy and not friendly fire. Let's not blow Iraq by failing to make the relatively small--but crucial--final effort to cement what so much effort and sacrifice has achieved thus far in Iraq.

Friday, August 22, 2008

When Only One Side Wages War

This article discusses why the Russians won the war on the battlefield. At the heart of it is the contention that Russia won with mass and not quality:

For an invading force from what used to be a military superpower, Russia's 58th Army did not look like a modern fighting unit. Victory came as a result of overwhelming numerical superiority and a textbook Soviet-style strategy based on detailed planning that leaves little room for flexibility. It was shock and awe by force of numbers, rather than by precision-guided weapons.

The Russians have learnt lessons from American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and from their own experiences in the Balkans, but the Georgia operation was old-style fighting with Cold War-era equipment.

Force of numbers? Overwhelming numerical superiority? The Russians had about a single division's worth of troops out of a total force of 20,000, including Chechen thugs and local militias in tow. While the Russians may have had the advantage of numbers at the point of attack, that is only because Georgia did not get their entire army into the fight before the ceasefire.

I suspect that the analysis of the Russians following a rigid plan is probably right, but the Russians used their air power well enough to savage the Georgian army to let the Russians march through Gori. The Russians were able to follow the plan and the Georgians could not disrupt the plan.

And the Cold War-era equipment charge? Yes but so what? What do you think our M-1s, M-2s, M-109s, Humvees, and F-16s are? Yes, we added in networked communications and precision weapons with a flexible and imaginative plan, but we used Cold War weapons, too.

More important was that the Georgians were ill-prepared to face the sudden Russian blitz:

Georgia did not believe Russia would respond to its offensive in South Ossetia and was completely unprepared for the counter-attack, the deputy defence minister has admitted. Batu Kutelia told the Financial Times that Georgia had made the decision to seize the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali despite the fact that its forces did not have enough anti-tank and air defences to protect themselves against the possibility of serious resistance. ...

Georgia’s 20,000-man army, built up at a cost of $2bn with the help of US trainers and cast-off Warsaw Pact equipment, was organised to deal with “brushfire” wars with separatist enclaves on its borders and to contribute to missions such as Iraq as a way of shoring up Georgia’s ties with the west, not to do battle with Russia.

Lack of proper weapons, proper training, and proper attitude. The lack of attitude meant that the Georgian military only sent a portion of its strength into battle. And the portion sent in wasn't expecting to fight an army. Which disproves the Leftist chant that it takes two to make a war. Just one side needs to show up ready for war. The Russians were the one side.

Retrain those Georgians to stop conventional armored assaults and large-scale airborne landings. We need the Georgians to hold Georgia more than we need them in Iraq or Afghanistan. And the Georgians need to be worried about holding Tbilisi, Gori, and Poti more than taking back those separatist enclaves.

The Al Qaeda Glance

Zawahari bade farewell to some of his dead commanders, gone to the great goat orgy in the sky:

Al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, paid tribute to several commanders from the militant group killed in a recent U.S. strike in a new video recording posted Friday on a militant Web site.

Al-Zawahri praised the deaths of the men, calling them martyrs, and urged other Muslims to follow their lead in waging jihad, or holy war.

"So brothers, go forward and don't look back. Your path is laced with blood, and don't turn this way or that, only look up to the sky," said al-Zawahri.

Looking up to the sky is understandable advice under the circumstances, I suppose. Back in World War II, that habit by German soldiers when facing the Western allies was called "the German glance."

But constantly looking over their shoulders for diving Allied fighter bombers didn't do them all that much good, either

Paranoia and Cruelty

We can't deal with Russia and fully work to defeat Putin's broader objectives until we preserve Georgia from the immediate Russian menace.

Krauthammer's view of Russia's objectives match mine:

Eastern Europe understands the stakes in Georgia. It is the ultimate target. Russia's aims are clear: (1) sever South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia for incorporation into Russia; (2) bring down Georgia's pro-Western government; and (3) intimidate Eastern European countries into reentering the Russian sphere of influence.

Objective No. 1 is already achieved. Georgia will never recover its provinces. They will soon be absorbed into Russia.

Objective No. 3 has backfired, for now. The Eastern Europeans have rallied to Georgia -- and to the United States.

Objective No. 2 remains in the balance. Russian tanks have cut Georgia in half. Its largest port has been ransacked. Its capital is isolated. Russia shows every sign of staying in place by maintaining checkpoints and ultimate control.

I don't think that objective 1 had any point, however, since Russia has had those regions for years now. The real battlefield is the world of former Russian colonies.

The second and third objectives relating to that issue have not been achieved and it is here that we need to oppose the Russians. Krauthammer worries that the Russians may yet win in these areas. I share the worry for objective 2 but think that we are working on this reasonably well.

Ralph Peters (see link below) thinks Russia's objectives are to cow the Georgians and former Russian provinces and to control the oil pipelines through Georgia. I think the latter is not an objective since the best way to do that would have been to conquer Georgia straight up while they had the chance.

Regardless of the objectives, I don't mind the relatively quiet response we have made so far since I figure punishing Russia now (like by scrapping G-8) might lead the Russians to just dig in inside Georgia rather than leave. That's the paranoia part. Get the Russians out and halt any momentum to restarting the war. Which is why our humanitarian missions led by our military are good. Work our way between the Russians and Georgians in ways that the Russians can't easily protest. Do that and the Georgians will feel more capable of resisting the Russians rather than submitting from fear of Russian cruelty.

Luckily, Russian businessmen are worried about the impact of the war:

While the value of the rouble has stayed relatively stable since the start of the conflict, with the help of central bank intervention, the stock market has fallen 6.5 per cent since August 7 and companies have found it harder to raise capital as investors demand sharply higher yields to buy their bonds to reflect the perceived risk.

The moves show that Russia’s economy, in spite of having one of the strongest national balance sheets in the world, is not immune to global market sentiment, which could end up being an important check on Kremlin decision-making.

“The million-headed hydra of the bourgeoisie has sent a signal: ‘change your course, comrades!’” wrote the popular internet columnist Dmitry Oreshkin on in a joking reference to the communist background of Russia’s leadership.

After we get the Russian troops largely out, then we can work on punishments and rebuilding the Georgian military--this time to fight the Russian invaders should they try again. some of those punishments could be leveraged to get any lingering Russian forces out of Georgian territory that Russia wants to hold as a buffer zone.

And for God's sake, stop trying to blame this on American policy or Bush. The Russians are the problem. Ralph Peters put it well:

It's become a cliche to cite Putin's KGB past when explaining him. Yet, Russia's new strongman isn't an ideologue; he's an ethnic nationalist. There's no taint of dialectical materialism in the cold-eyed man from St. Petersburg; on the contrary, he's far more a creature from a Dostoevsky novel than a "new Soviet man" produced by Lenin. Even Putin's heritage as a secret policeman reaches farther back than the recent era of the KGB-or Cheka, or NKVD, or MGB. Putin harks back beyond the czarist Okhrana to the proto-Gestapo Oprichniki of Ivan the Terrible, whose twin concerns were internal order and the exclusion of all things foreign, and whose elementary traits were paranoia and cruelty.

And the Russians are finally beginning to look like they are reversing course and getting out of most of Georgia:

Russian military convoys rolled out of three key positions in Georgia and headed toward Moscow-backed separatist regions on Friday in a significant withdrawal two weeks after thousands of troops roared into the former Soviet republic.

No, this is not yet a complete withdrawal. But the important thing is to get the Russians moving in reverse so they are not in a position to renew the invasion and march on Tbilisi.

We did not lose Russia. Russians lost Russia. For now, anyway.

And we could still lose Georgia if we don't balance the needs of dealing with Russia's paranoia and cruelty. But I think we are doing well after our initial stumbling in the first days of the Russian invasion when we couldn't bring ourselves to recognize that Putin was acting very badly.