Streetwise Professor

August 26, 2008

In Your Face

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:40 pm

As I surmised on Sunday, the US Navy (or Coast Guard) will send a ship to Poti, Georgia to deliver humanitarian relief:

The move [Medvedev’s recognition of the independence of the rump states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia] came after the U.S. announced it intends to deliver humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Georgian port city of Poti, which Russian troops still control through checkpoints on the city’s outskirts. The aid will be delivered Wednesday by ship, a U.S. embassy spokesman said.

While Western nations have called the Russian military presence in Poti a clear violation of a European Union-brokered cease-fire, a top Russian general countered Tuesday that using warships to deliver aid was “devilish.”

Many of the Russian forces that drove deep into Georgia after fighting broke out Aug. 7 in the separatist region of South Ossetia have pulled back, but at least hundreds are estimated to still be manning checkpoints, that Russia calls “security zones,” inside Georgia proper. Two of those checkpoints are near the edge of Poti, one of Georgia’s most important Black Sea ports. The Russian military is also claiming the right to patrol in the city.

An Associated Press cameraman was treated roughly by Russian troops Sunday when he tried to film Russian movements around Poti. Georgian officials have said much of the port’s infrastructure — radar, Coast Guard ships, other equipment — was destroyed by the Russians.

In a move that angered Russia, the U.S. sent the missile destroyer USS McFaul to the southern Georgian port of Batumi, well away from the conflict zone, to deliver 34 tons of humanitarian aid Sunday. The McFaul left Batumi on Tuesday but would remain in the Black Sea area, said Commander Scott Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet in Naples, Italy.

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter, meanwhile, was headed for Georgia with a shipment of aid. Embassy spokesman Stephen Guice didn’t give details on which ship would aim to enter Poti, but it appeared likely the smaller Coast Guard ship would aim to dock, with the McFaul possibly remaining on guard at sea. “We can confirm that US ship-borne humanitarian aid will be delivered to Poti tomorrow,” Mr. Guice said.

In Moscow, the deputy head of the Russian military’s general staff lashed out at the U.S. naval operation. “We are worried” about the way aid is delivered on warships, Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn said. “This is devilish.” “This aid could be bought at any flea market,” he added.

“Devilish.” Excellent (cue Monty Burns voice.)

Ball’s in your court, guys. Watcha gonna do ’bout it?

The Russians have no good options once USCGC Dallas pulls into Poti–which is just why the move is so devilish (in Russian eyes). Deny the delivery of humanitarian relief to sovereign Georgian territory, and they make it clear that they are in violation of international law; that they are really engaged in a punitive mission against Georgia with the intent of unseating the duly elected government, rather than protecting “Russian citizens”; that they have no intent of adhering to their commitments under the “cease fire” agreement; all while running the risk of an escalation that would jeopardize Putin’s long term plans. Allow the delivery of the aid, and they will appear to be climbing down in the face of US pressure.

This episode suggests that Putin let his rage against Saakashvilli and his hormones get the better of him. This was not the move of a self-controlled judo master. Rather than using his opponent’s momentum against him, Putin’s lunge has put him off balance. He must either beat a retreat, or escalate the situation, thereby weakening Russia’s long term position.

How did Putin get into this situation? It seems driven by overconfidence. Where did that come from? Disdain for the Europeans and the United States? Belief that the Euros would not respond because, well, they’re Euros? Belief that the US would not respond because Bush is tired and distracted, an election is underway, we are “bogged down” in Iraq, and that the European Lilliputians would rein us in? The rather predictable effect of isolation from feedback and reasoned challenge that is the hallmark of autocratic systems ruled by fear? All of the above, and more, methinks.

August 25, 2008

Talking Turkey

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 8:56 am

Richard Fernandez provides some very interesting news regarding the American flotilla arriving off the Georgia coast:

Wired describes the allied flottila closing on Georgian coast, including a DDG, an SSN, the command ship USS Mount Whitney (“onsidered by some to be the most sophisticated Command, Control, Communications, Computer, and Intelligence (C4I) ship ever commissioned”) and the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Dallas. Wired describes the naval force:

“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.”

The dispatch of a sophisticated 4CI vessel like the Whitney is very interesting. More interesting is the dispatch of an SSN (an attack sub, which is capable of carrying large numbers of land attack cruise missiles, and is not, to state the obvious, optimized for the delivery of humanitarian aid).

Most interesting of all is that Turkey has allowed all of this through the straits. A primary purpose of the Montreux Convention is to deny the ability of major sea powers from using the Black Sea to attack Russia. By letting a large naval force with substantial firepower (in the form of cruise missiles on the DDG and the SSN, and a command ship capable of coordinating combined air and cruise missile strikes) into the Black Sea, Turkey is putting Russia on notice that it opposes the latter’s excellent Georgian adventure.

Committing such a large naval force is also a pretty bold move on the part of the US. One wonders what is next. Although the McFaul entered the port of Batumi, rather than Russian-occupied Poti, if the Russians continue their hold on the latter port one could imagine a scenario in which a humanitarian relief ship is directed to Poti. The Russians would be forced to stop it or let it go. Either alternative would pose grave dangers for the Russians. If they stopped it using any force, or prevented it from delivering its supplies to needy Georgians, or seized the supplies, it would risk escalating the confrontation with the US. If they let it go, they would look weak. A humanitarian naval mission to Poti could be the equivalent of the US quarantine of Cuba during the missile crisis.

Richard Fernandez makes a good point in his piece about the fact that American air and naval power is essentially free from any commitment at the moment. Everybody wailing about our complete lack of military capability due to commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan is thinking only in terms of ground combat power. I’m sure the Russians aren’t. Nor are we.

As Fernandez notes, the Russians can’t be happy about the presence of powerful naval forces in the Black Sea, and the message this sends about the Turkish position. Yet another indication that the unintended consequences of the invasion of Georgia proper may make Russia the biggest loser.

In the end, the verdict on Putin’s Georgia gambit may be the same that Talleyrand delivered in response to Napoleon’s murder of the Duc d’Enghien: “It was worse than a crime. It was a blunder.” Let us hope.

Too Quick to be True?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:32 am

David Johnson, compiler of the invaluable Johnson’s Russia List, is a little bit defensive in today’s issue about the balance in his coverage of the possibility that Russia had prepared its incursion far in advance. I don’t think that he has to be defensive, but it is good that he is going the extra mile and printing Pavel Felgenhaur’s article advancing the hypothesis that this incursion was in motion starting in April. I do disagree with David’s assertion that Russian accounts of Russian operational mistakes, not to say incompetence, are inconsistent with preplanning. Mistakes are characteristic of any military operation, and even if Russia committed more than the normal quota of blunders, this is not surprising given (a) the long history of Russian command blunders being redeemed by mass, and the blood and courage of its soldiers, and (b) the dramatic decay in Russian armed forces in the post-Soviet era.

Several of the articles I saw today, including one in JRL, provide additional evidence consistent with the hypothesis that the Russians had laid the bait, and were ready to pounce with Saakashvilli took it. In the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst Robert Cutler states:

A detailed timeline provided by Georgia’s Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze during an international telephone press conference disputes that assertion, however. This view is corroborated in most part by several independent sources, and an independent Washington Post reconstruction of events concludes that the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali and the Russian tank column’s emergence from the Georgian end of the cross-border Roki Tunnel could only have been minutes apart at most. Roughly 150 Russian vehicles including armored personnel carriers got through before Georgian forces were able to mount an only partially successful attack on the crucial bridge at Kurta linking the Roki Tunnel with Tskhinvali.

It seems inescapable that Russian tanks must have been on the road from Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, for some time in order to cross the 100 miles of mountain roads to reach South Ossetia when they did. Novaya gazeta’s respected military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer is only one of several writers who have documented how the Russian invasion is only the culmination of a months-long series of provocations as well as strategic and tactical on-the-ground preparations, for example the construction and equipment of a base near the city of Java, northwest of Tskhinvali, as a refueling depot for Russian armor moving southwards. This should be added to the better-known “railroad repair” troops sent to Abkhazia in recent weeks, who are reliably reported to have constructed tank-launching facilities. The ceremony completing the railway repair was held as late as July 30.

The possibility that Russian tanks were already rolling when the Georgians began shelling, and preempted Georgian attempts to block the road from the Roki Tuunnel, suggests some interesting possibilities, including: (a) the Russians had advanced intelligence of the Georgian assault, and (b) the Russians were so confident that the Georgians would respond to Ossetian provocations that they began their assault in anticipation. In any event, in no way is what happened simply the result of the activation of a contingency plan in response to the Georgian bombardment. Even if the plans had been in place, it would have taken some days to get everything rolling. It is almost certain that they were in the blocks ready to go.

This article also notes that the Russians, for all of their wailing about Georgia’s indiscriminate shelling of Tskhinvali, (a) used the same inaccurate Grad rocket systems, and (b) actually shelled the town more ferociously and indiscriminately than the Georgians did.

Paul Goble’s report that large numbers of Russian journalists were already in Tskhinvali provides further credence to the pre-planning hypothesis.

This article printed in JRL presents a very interesting analysis of Russian operational problems:

Absence of Regional Commands Blamed for Russian Inadequacies in Ossetia

Moskovskiy Komsomolets
August 23, 2008 (?)
Article by Olga Bozhyeva: “Disarmed Forces of the
Russian Federation: Our Army Continues To Win
Only Through its Fighting Spirit”

The dead in Ts’khinvali had not been buried before the medals were being distributed. “Victory” is being conveyed from the television screens. Everywhere, victors. And we don’t judge victors. But should we be reveling in this way over our military victory in the Caucasus? Did anyone, Saakashvili included, doubt that Russia would get the better of Georgia? Consequently, in unleashing war Saakashvili was counting by no means on a military, but on a propaganda, victory. He presented Russia to the world as an aggressor. However much we now repeat over and over “and you,” there’s no washing off us the blood of the people that fell beneath our “pinpoint” strikes. In the West currently even those that are prepared to acknowledge Russia’s retaliatory action as being justified are accusing us of an excessive use of military force. And could it have been otherwise? It probably could. Had we had the army that the politicians have been promising to create for us for more than 20 years now.

From the very outset our army in this military conflict was a hostage to hapless politicians, who had brought the situation to the point of war. The military had to win here not with satellite reconnaissance systems, precision weapons, or methods of waging a non-contact war but, as always, by heroism, blood, and the weapons of the 1960s.

It had neither the Glonass space system nor satellite-guided projectiles nor precision missiles or laser-illuminated projectiles. It had hand grenades and old Soviet tanks, which stalled, creating backups in the Roki Tunnel. It had Grad systems, which are no use for pinpoint strikes. High-explosive bombs missing the target by several kilometers.

And the human beings. General Kulakhmetov, commander of the peacekeeping contingent, who held the defense for many hours while his virtually defenseless people were being hit by Georgian Grads. Major Ketchinov, who at the cost of his life rescued defenseless reporters. Boy conscripts, of whom the MoD had washed its hands, maintaining that contract servicemen alone were fighting in Ossetia. General Shrulev, commander of the 58th Army, who was wounded in the very first engagement.

Knowing that there were insufficient men and equipment for a breakthrough into Ts’khinvali, he himself led the tank column. Might he not have done so? Of course. Only how then could he have looked in the eye the mothers of his fallen soldiers?

But why, for all that, did he go, not waiting for reinforcements? As one officer said, first, because people in the city were being killed, they needed to be rescued, second, because there was pressure from above. The Kremlin had already three times reported that Ts’khinvali was under 58th Army control, although this was not, in fact, the case. “Can you think why it was reported three times,” the officer sadly joked. “Because each such report means one more star on the epaulets. In war to each his own: for some, stars, for some, bullets, for some, eternal remembrance….”

Unfortunately, there are with us always more of the latter. They are subsequently spoken of in television reporting and written about in the papers, and children are taught on the basis of their exploits. We love stories about exploits and heroes.But if, for example, an American child were asked to name heroes of the war in Iraq or Yugoslavia, it is hardly likely that they would be remembered. These were nameless wars. Non-contact, as the military says. They had no battlefields as we customarily understand them. An American soldier never even set foot on this country’s territory throughout the war in Yugoslavia but the outcome of the war was decided in a matter of hours here. First NATO aviation with the aid of satellites that guided it to the targets put the Yugoslav air defenses out of action.The airfields, deprived of cover, were then immediately destroyed. With absolute air superiority US planes released 1,500 precision cruise missiles and rapidly destroyed over 500 facilities of Yugoslavia’s state and military support structure. That was it. This was the end of the war. It had no heroes.

Later some military analysts, tallying the results, said that the Americans had fought poorly since they had been unable to wipeout Milosevic’s army, which lost only 1% of its armored equipment and approximately 500 servicemen. But these analysts failed to consider that all these losses were for the United States “collateral,” unplanned, that is. TheYugoslav Army (aside from the air-defense troops) had not been the target of precision strikes at all. Their target was the state of Yugoslavia itself: its economy and political system. And the United States successfully achieved the elimination of this target.The purpose of our military operation in the Caucasus was, as we now know, the “enforcement of peace on Georgia”. We also achieved this purpose.

But at what price? Our “collateral” losses were the peaceful population. We fought not like the Americans–in non-contact fashion–but in very “contact” fashion even: with artillery, tanks, and infantry. As our heroic fathers and grandfathers did in the last century.

Did Saakashvili not know that this was the only way that Russia was capable of fighting him? He probably did. And there was a calculation in this also, evidently: there would have to be the bloodshed of peaceful people in such a slaughter for it manifestly not to result in the eyes of the world community in Russia’s favor.

And did our politicians really not suspect with what and how their army would fight? Although it is they, it would appear, that had an inadequate notion of this. We have in recent years heard so many times about Russia’s superweapons that both those that listened to them and those that spoke about them believed in these tales.

Only you can’t fight in a war with tales. You need real weapons. And what did we see? We saw a long-familiar picture: our boys riding on top of the armor of the APCs–getting about is safer this way because they are not protected inside the vehicles against armor-piercing shells, which pierce them even at distances of 700 meters and incinerate everything inside. We saw our artillery, which was delivering concentrated shelling with Grads, by no means with some guided projectiles or bombs of the Santimetr, Smelchak, or Gran type.

We saw our downed planes. As the MoD maintains, there were four of them. According to Saakashvili, more than 20, and according to MK’s information, eight. But even if we accept the official figure of four, this is, nonetheless,too many for three days of fighting.

Why were we unable to avoid these losses? Could our ground-attack planes really not have eliminated the radars–the “eyes and ears”of Georgia’s air defenses–then and there? After all, we had been assured that tactical aviation was armed with the X-28 (range of 90 km) and X-58 (range of120 km) anti-radar missiles? Where are they? Why were the precision X-555 missiles not employed? We have been told that they “go right through a window from 2,000 kilometers away.” Two thousand? Splendid! So pinpoint strikes may be conducted without even entering the air-defense zone.

Yes, they may. Only according to our expert, the last time that the MoD ordered a consignment of several dozen X-555s was back at the end of the 1990s. For tests. They were successful, but no more X-555s were ordered–there was no money in the budget. The pilots say that the last three or four of this consignment were fired by Vladimir Putin personally during his celebrated flight on a Tu-160 strategic bomber. So what’s the point of holding the military to account? They fought with what they could, this is why, possibly, they did not always hit the target. When the first reports that Russian aviation was bombing Georgian villages were received, I immediately began calling a pilot friend of mine: “Is this true?” He really took fright, began to make inquiries, and called back several minutes later: “We are not bombing any villages, of course.” He was then silent for a while and softly added: “Well, only if the bombs were off by about eight kilometers.” How much is this–eight kilometers–for tiny Georgia? Thanks to such “pinpoint” attacks of our aviation and artillery, Saakashvili now has an opportunity to wave in the faces of Western politicians photographs of demolished Georgian homes and wounded and dead inhabitants. The simplest thing is to say that all this is a forgery. It is much harder to acknowledge mistakes. Only who should acknowledge them: the military or the politicians that are incapable of arming their own army?

It came to the point of the military, having tired of waiting for the new arms promised it in the national weapons procurement, itself rectifying the situation. Through trophy. In the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone our troops captured more than 100 pieces of equipment, including five Osa air-defense systems, 15 BMP-2s, D-2 guns, Czech-made self-propelled artillery mounts, and American APCs. Of course, none of this is the latest equipment but they were short even of this. As Colonel Igor Konashenkov, aide to the Ground Troops commander in chief, says, “of the 65 captured tanks, we destroyed 21 since they were either beyond repair or of old configuration. The 44 that are in working order, in fine condition, we took for ourselves.”

We are in luck. We have gotten rich. For our own state last year supplied them with only 30 new machines.

The war in Georgia has laid bare not only problems of arms but also of the combat employment of the fighting forces. Military specialists, for example, were shocked by the announcement of the downed Russian Tu-22 aircraft. Everyone has been asking: why was this long-range heavy bomber employed at all in a local conflict? The MoD’s official version–that the Tu-22 was flying for reconnaissance–evoked from the pilots themselves merely a wry smile. Here’s the opinion of our expert:

“Why the Tu-22 was sent there is clear: it carries as much in the way of munitions as 10 Su-25s–up to 20 tons–and could have alone eliminated the entire airfield from where Georgian Su-25s were taking off to bomb Ts’khinvali. But the Tu-22 cannot be employed without preliminary reconnaissance and the elimination in its flight area of enemy air-defense points. None of this was done, of course. As a result, the Tu-22 became a giant target for Georgia’s air defenses. In addition, the Tu-22’s accuracy of targeting from a bombing altitude of 6,000-8,000 meters is of the order of 1.5km–not the best performance characteristic for operation in densely populated area.”

Who sent the crew of the Tu-22 to certain death, it is hardly likely that we will ever know, of course–war writes off everything. Meeting with the military in Vladikavkaz, President Medvedev has already said that they are all great guys, that our Armed Forces have overcome the crisis of the 1990s, and the latest hostilities have shown that combat training in the army is on a sound level.

What else could it be if we won? True, just a couple of months ago General Aleksandr Kolmakov,
first deputy defense minister, said that until recently “the training of our fighting forces had remained at the1960’s-1970’s level.” It is a long time since we had heard such strong and truthful words from army generals. Although combat veterans disagree even with this. They believe that everything is even worse.

“It was known after Afghanistan that you can’t plow up mountains with bombs,” Colonel-General Vitaliy Pavlov, former commander of army aviation and commanding officer of a combat aircraft group of the Russian troops in Afghanistan. “I recall that once, when aiming, I was off by only 50 cm, and the missiles deviated by about 5 kilometers–that’s the mountains for you! Why was the Tu-22 sent to such mountains now? Did the experience of Afghanistan teach nobody anything?…”

It did, but, following all the army shakeups called reform, it has, evidently, been happily forgotten. In Afghanistan, for example, when upon a landing approach several of our military transport planes were shot down in succession, the so-called “Kabul approach”–a super-steep landing with an abrupt maneuver descent–was devised. Now, specialists say, when the Tu-22 crew was assigned the mission, “the flight profile should have been very competently selected and the maneuver developed” also. “But this was not thought through, by all accounts.” Or another example: could we really imagine in Afghanistan that tanks would go on the offensive without air cover provided by army-aviation helicopters? Of course not. But they did in Ossetia. Why? Possibly because there was no time to reach agreement on joint operations. After all, five years ago the reformers took army aviation from the land armies and placed it under Air Force command. The tactics of its employment had nothing to do with it here. They acted according to the principle: all that flies should be in the same hands. It is odd that intercontinental nuclear missiles were not given to it also–after all, they too fly pretty well.

Many people are now asking why the Russian Army took so long to go to the assistance of our peacekeepers when they were being bombarded by Georgian Grads. Why did the enemy planes have air dominance for almost 24 hours? Where was our aviation? These questions were answered for MK by Vitaliy Shlykov, member of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council and chairman of the Commission for Security Policy and Expert Appraisal of Military Legislation of the MoD Public Council: “This is a question of the ystem. And here once again the subject of united commands surfaces. Why was aviation late in appearing? Could the Ground Troops commander have given orders to the pilots? Of course not. This all had to go through superior levels, approval, time, that is, was needed. And don’t forget also about the disputes, poses, honor of the uniform. With the current system of leadership, it could not have been otherwise not only for the Armed Forces but for the country’s defense as a whole.”

The Americans have had united theater commands for exactly half a century now. Each is directed by a four-star general. Everything: Army, Marine Corps, aviation, reports to him in the sphere of command responsibility. He does not in case of necessity need to apply for air support to the commander of the service. This general has only one superior officer–the president or his representative, the defense minister. He needs a maximum of 30 minutes to obtain approval for the employment of all his men and equipment.

Had we had such united commands, our response to Georgia also could have been instantaneous and would not have resulted in such casualties. The Ground Troops, for example, were very well prepared for such a development of events. It had been said in the North Caucasus District since May that a military conflict was inevitable. And intelligence had surely reported this, so no tactical surprise on the part of Georgia was achieved. It is simply that all our troops were waiting for the order, which took too long to get to the fighting forces.

The subject of the formation of regional commands has long been raised here. No one, theoretically, is opposed to their formation, seemingly. But in practice the commander of any service of the Armed Forces is the complete master of his troops, and for some other colleague of his to order him to do something? This is unacceptable. The generals are resisting for the added reason that they are not prepared for leadership of united forces. When the Americans switched to such a system, they had to change the entire structure of military training. We will not get away with the simple appeal–let’s fight together–here either. This has to affect the entire system of military organization, the training of the troops, and the commanders themselves.

It is possible that the politicians and the generals will one day reach agreement on what our army should look like in the 21st century. It would be good were this not to happen too late.This is hardly of any concern to anyone today, when medals are hanging in the buttonholes, in any event. All is well with us for the time being, and all are heroes. But as one expert whom I know said, when politicians adopt a posture of standing up straight without a performance-capable army at their back, this could end badly for them.

Several SWP themes appear in this piece: (1) The importance of organizational decisions regarding the allocation of control over weapons, (2) the lack of new weapons actually reaching the front line troops, and (3) the precision and stealth revolutions have not reached the Russian military.

Regular Joe?

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 7:38 am

In recent days I had a very hard time crediting rumors that Obama would choose Joe Biden for his VP. Now that it is a fact, I am still puzzled. The party line seems to be that Biden will appeal to working class, white, ethnic, male voters. In other words, Biden is Obama’s outreach to bitter clingers.

I’ve had the misfortune of observing Joe Biden for over 21 years. During that time, of the many (printable) phrases that have come to mind, none of them are: “Regular guy”; “Joe Sixpack”; or “Common Touch.” They apparently took the Scranton out of the boy when they took the boy out of Scranton. Hardly any senator seems appealing to ordinary guys, and Biden, with his starched shirts, cufflinks, hairplugs, and pomposity doesn’t scream working class appeal. This seems a by-the-numbers, focus-group and consultant driven choice. Not that I’m complaining.

August 24, 2008

The Victor Moves Up

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 3:53 am

General David Patraeus has stepped up from his position as US commander in Iraq to assume the top slot at CentCom. He leaves a victor, having accomplished what was widely considered impossible–to bring order out of chaos; to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq; provide the security necessary for Iraq to take its first tentative steps towards a political settlement; and to rescue American credibility in the region and the world.

In brief, Patraeus achieved what I said was possible in Ridgeway, Abrams, and Patraeus. I was sanguine about the surge from the beginning, arguing that the more effective employment of the most formidable military the world has ever seen would retrieve a seemingly hopeless situation; that a more aggressive use of our forces and a wise application of tried-and-true counterinsurgency techniques would prevail; that seizing the initiative would work wonders. Through his strategy and steadfastnesses, Patraeus joins the pantheon of true American military heroes. (Max Boot made the Ridgeway comparison today.)

In the Ridgeway post I stated that the primary obstacle to success was political: would Patraeus have the time and political support required to make his strategy work? Here the credit goes to George Bush, and to a lesser degree, McCain. Bush fought a war of his own, a political one, absorbing almost continuous political and personal blows while engaging in what amounts to an epic holding action. It is a testament to his will, and in this instance, his judgment. It is also a testament to the nature of the American political system. The power of the veto, and the ability of a strong minority to block legislation in the Senate, make it difficult to change the status quo and reverse course on divisive issues. This provides a ballast to the American system that enhances the credibility of commitments in a way that is not possible in parliamentary systems.

There are wider political ramifications of Patraeus’s success. Obama’s disgraceful record on the surge is well known. Not only has his judgment proved wildly wrong, he has been, ahem, less than honest in his attempts to deflect scrutiny and criticism of that judgment.

The crowning disgrace, however, relates to Patraeus directly. During his recent visit to Iraq, Obama denigrated American military commanders’ impassioned pleas that they be allowed to finish the job by saying that their perspective was narrow and blinkered; that as Commander-in-Chief it was his responsibility to take a global perspective on American military commitments and strategies. He thereby implied directly that Patraeus and his subordinates in Iraq were parochial in their outlooks, and were making recommendations that were contrary to America’s broader interests.

The condescension was breathtaking, the insult stunning. At the time Barry Obama uttered these remarks, Patraeus was already slotted to take over Central Command. Does Obama seriously believe that a thoughtful, educated, experienced soldier like Patraeus, knowing that he would soon assume broad responsibilities for military policy–including responsibility for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two places Obama identified as more important than Iraq–would not have considered the broader ramifications of his recommendations? Does Obama really believe that Patraeus and his subordinates do not think deeply–much more deeply than he, or that he is even capable of–about the broader strategic, geopolitical, and military situation? Does he really believe that they are both unwilling and incapable of balancing American interests in Iraq with competing demands on American military resources? Does He believe that only He is sufficiently broad minded and intelligent to make the right trade-off? On what basis could he possibly arrive at that conclusion? Certainly not experience, education, training or inclination. On each of these scores Patraeus beats him like a drum. Perhaps Obama played Risk a couple of times in college, but being community organizer (whatever), political operator in Chicago, part time lawyer, part time Constitutional law lecturer, state legislator and full time self-promoter are hardly experiences that foster a broad geostrategic outlook. Patreaus is a scholar-soldier/soldier-scholar. He and his colleagues in Iraq and in the military generally have been debating, discussing, analyzing and strategizing the best ways to employ America’s military forces for years. This does not guarantee that any individual one of them is right on any particular issue, but it certainly means that a dilettante like Obama should be more than a little cautious in making such conclusory judgments in opposition to theirs.

In sum, David Patraeus is a great general and a great American. We can certainly trust his strategic judgment far more than we can trust Barry Obama’s. Obama’s opinion to the contrary just provides further evidence, as if any was needed, of his overweening arrogance and fundamental unfitness for the position of Commander-in-Chief.

August 23, 2008

A Housekeeping Announcement

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 4:27 am

With the wonderful assistance of Dana at my webhost, Andrew Lehman Design, I have upgraded from the prehistoric version of WordPress that I had been using since SWP started to the shiny new version 2.6.1.   The primary impetus for the upgrade was comment spam, and the new version of WordPress has much better spam filtering capabilities. As a result, I should be able to manage comments more efficiently.

The downside–in the transition process, all previously approved comments disappeared.   No, it’s not some crafty plot to consign some of you pesky critics to the memory hole, so the more hair-triggered of you, don’t get your drawers all knotted up over this.   Stuff happens.

I do have most (and perhaps all) approved comments from registered users saved in the emails that were sent to me.   I would be glad to take the effort to repost those comments if you request.   Just submit a comment to this post requesting that I do so, and I will.

Dana also helped out with a couple of other things.   The site should be more readable now as she’s adjusted the type spacing.     Also, the text editor now allows me to configure posts so that links open in new windows.

Feel free to provide other suggestions on how to improve the site.

More on Russophobia

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 4:17 am

Commentor DR writes:

I believe conventional Russophobia is just another variant of Orientalism (as defined by Said) relying on one-dimensional caricatures of Russian cultural reality as one of millenial despotism, contempt for the individual, etc. This ignores the many instances of democratic/liberal tendencies organically appearing in Russian history, from the Veche of medieval Novgorod to Putin’s consolidation of liberal democracy in the last 8 years (I view Yeltsin’s period as closer in spirit to the Time of Troubles). I also question your thesis of a “civilizational chasm” between Russia and the West. It ignores the fact that there have been numerous despotisms throughout Western history and some general trends, e.g. the high status of the state in economic planning that one sees throughout French history from Colbert to Mitterand. Finally, I find talk of chasms and divides that cannot be bridged both pessimistic and in a way self-fulfilling. I have long observed the sheer disconnect between Russian reality and Russian reality as presented in Western texts. This has led me to conclude that either Western observers really are all incompetent / myopic (i.e. slaves of their own misrepresentations, accumulated over centuries) or actively malevolent / eager to fight an info-war. I wrote my views on the Ossetian conflict here. I concluded, “Control is all about imposing your view of reality on the minds of others. Since overt political persecution is no longer widely accepted, the elites have resorted to fighting wars over hearts and minds. Western media manipulation is not readily noticeable, since if that were the case the simulation’s plausibility would fall apart immediately (as was the case in the Soviet Union)…This makes them far more insidious and dangerous to freedom than any repressive dictatorship; for in the latter one knows one is a slave, while too many Westerners continue to be believe they are free, whereas in fact they are also slaves, like the rest of us.” And that’s really the difference between Russophobes and Russophiles. Russophiles know they live in the matrix; Russophobes think they’re free and laugh at the poor Russians, not realizing that they’re laughing at their own reflection.

I genuinely appreciate the comment, to which I reply as follows:

1. Edward Said? Puh-lease. Tiresome pomo-ism that elevates banalities about the difficulty of understanding a different culture and the inescapability of subjectivity into 400+ pages of whiney defensiveness with more than a tinge–dare I say it–of stereotypical Middle Eastern conspiracy theorizing.

2. Any broad and deep culture is bound to exhibit a variety of tendencies and behaviors. There is variability in the cross section and over time in a particular state or nation or culture. Nonetheless, there are also clear central tendencies, and clear cross sectional variation across nations/cultures/states. The key thing is the ability to see the forest for the trees. Identifying salient characteristics, trends, and tendencies of course involves some inevitable distortion of a complex reality, but even purely scientific inquiries face this trade off. Mental models and the use of central tendencies to help better understand the whole are both essential engines of inquiry to advance understanding, even though they will not accurately capture every detail.

3. There are clear historical differences between Russia and non-Russian nations and states. This is not just the view of the “Other.” Indeed, a major theme in much Russian political thought and literature is the profound, indeed civilizational, difference between Russia and the West. If there is a “disconnect between Russian reality and Russian reality as represented in Western texts,” there must be a similar disconnect between Russian reality and Russian reality as represented in Russian literature, philosophy, and political writing.

4. Even within Russian discourse it is widely recognized that the state is far more powerful vis a vis the individual in Russia than in the West. A major divide among Russian thinkers is between those relative few that perceive it as a bug (e.g., Chaadaev), and the more numerous who consider it a feature. (The Slavophiles are an interesting case. Although Russian chauvinists, they were deeply critical of Petrine autocracy and centralization. At the same time, they were deeply hostile to “Western” individualism and idealized and romanticized a Russian collectivist (or communitarian, if you like) worldview defined by opposition to the West. And Peter is also often difficult to categorize. He was a Westernizer when it came to technology and the military, but a devoted centralizer hostile to institutional constraints on the Tsar.)

5. With respect to the West, no classical liberal like Friedman–or me–would argue for a minute that this philosophy is, or ever has been, the predominant strain in Western thought, or an accurate description of actual political and economic systems in the West. Indeed, liberalism developed primarily as a reaction to nearly ubiquitous statist and mercantilist systems of economy and governance, and made only limited headway against these systems in only a few nations (notably Great Britain and the US). Moreover, the classical liberal critique of the trajectory of Western economic and political development since the turn of the 19th century emphasizes the expansion of government power at the expense of individual liberty. If I criticize Russia, know that I also criticize the metastasization of the state in the United States and Europe.

6. Perhaps the different evolutions of the West and Russia were contingent events. The balance of power between citizen and state in each was not the result of a theoretical discourse or a conscious choice. They were instead the results of struggles for power between armed elites. The English barony that forced my ancestor King John to sign the Magna Carta did so out of self-interest and because they possessed the power to advance that interest. Throughout Europe, struggles between different elites affected the balance of political power, and the balance of power affected the negotiations over rights and duties. Liberties were not granted out of benevolence, or in pursuit of a political theory. They were wrested from sovereigns who would have been Peters or Ivans if they could have prevailed. The outcomes were not homogeneous even within Europe, with very different developments in England, France, Prussia, Holland, Sweden, Spain, and Poland. The simple historical fact is that, for a variety of imperfectly understood reasons, no credible rival sources of power to the Tsar were able to secure enduring liberties as occurred (with varying degrees of success) in the West. Events in Russia today represent another example of this historical tendency.

7. Exceptions prove rules. Novgorod was certainly exceptional by Russian historical standards, and its fate reveals that Russia’s evolution was in fact very different from what occurred throughout the West. Ivan III sure took care of the Veche, no? (One Russian commentor from a couple of years back was quite adamant that Ivan did the right thing in extirpating Novgorod.)

8. And, dear DR, your second example is? (I will charitably interpret your statement about Putin’s “consolidation of liberal democracy” as an attempt at irony. If you are in fact serious, the statement is risible, nay, Orwellian.) I am highly confident that any further examples that you could present would just be additional exceptions proving the general rule.

9. “The Matrix”? (Eyes rolling.) That makes Edward Said look coherent by comparison. A tired trope that we only imagine that we are free even though we are in fact manipulated by some faceless, unnamed “media.” In other words–another conspiracy theory. To practical, empirically minded people (like me), all I can say is that there is no doubt that as an American I am at much less risk of coercion at the hands of the state, and that I have far more rights protecting me against its predations, than any Russian counterpart (though I am still subject to far more coercion than I would like.) And what’s more, although Putin has arguably reduced the vulnerability of Russians to the predations of private violence specialists, his concentration of power in the state (the “power vertical”) and his encouragement of “legal nihilism” (not my term, but Medvedev’s) has in fact inflicted grievous injuries on Russian liberties, and has set back the cause of liberty in Russia for decades, if not more. Put differently, given the choice between living in the US and living in Russia–even holding my material standard of living constant–I would choose the US every day without a second thought. Which raises an interesting issue, DR. I see from your blog that you live in California. That’s what’s called voting with your feet. Or as economists phrase it, revealed preference. It speaks volumes.

August 22, 2008

Sense in the New Republic

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:39 pm

The proverbial blind hog finds the truffle:

The invasion of Georgia shines an alarming light on the nature of political thinking within the Russian leadership. The Russian leadership is conventionally seen as conforming to a nineteenth-century notion of national interests, together with a mid-twentieth-century style of ethnic solidarity. In the controversy over the separatist regions of Georgia, Russia does face a matter of national interest, if national interest is conceived in the geographical and ethnic styles of the nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. Still, Russia has other interests, too–regional peace and quiet, a continued healthy business atmosphere, the assurance that catastrophic events will not take place. These additional interests ought to outweigh the geographical and ethnic ones, or so you might suppose. To shake up half the world on behalf of two breakaway enclaves smaller even than Schleswig-Holstein does not appear to make sense, in a conventional calculation. And yet, the Russian leadership has decided otherwise. Why?

Today, any time some large group of people behaves in a way that defies a logical calculation of potential gains and losses, the people in question are said to be reacting to “humiliation,” or what used to be called “ressentiment.” Humiliation, though, taken as a political experience, exists only where it has been ideologically constructed, and not otherwise. Germany, having been defeated in World War I, was afterwards said to be undergoing “humiliation”; and yet, after World War II, having been defeated ten times more cruelly, Germany was no longer said to be “humiliated.” That was because the German political doctrines promoting a feeling of “humiliation” disappeared after World War II. It was the doctrines, not the experience of misfortune, that had created “humiliation.”

Russia, having been defeated in the Cold War, is said to be undergoing “humiliation.” But I think mostly the Russian leaders feel something worse, which is fear. The Russian leaders picture their country in a terrifyingly vulnerable position, not unlike how Israel sees itself. Fear, not “humiliation,” led Russia to invade Georgia–a fear of utter destruction facing their own country. Russian diplomats have expressed this fear openly during the last few months. I have heard them to do it–speaking aloud, with hot conviction, about an “existential danger” to Russia, posed by Georgia.

And yet, their fear is entirely doctrinal–which is to say, imaginary. Russia’s situation is not, in fact, like Israel’s. No foreign power since the end of the Cold War has entertained a plan of attacking Russia or destroying Russia’s power and wealth. The Russian fear rests merely on a somewhat paranoid interpretation of world events. Fears based on paranoid interpretations cannot be assuaged. A tacit agreement by the rest of the world to allow Russia to conquer the breakaway regions of Georgia and to install a puppet regime in Tbilisi, and to do likewise in Ukraine, and so forth, will not make the Russian leaders feel any less threatened.

Why do the Russians indulge such an interpretation? It is an archaism. The mystery wrapped in an enigma is a bit of an antique. In any case, the current dominance of this kind of thinking may suggest that Russia is a shakier place than it appears to be. A stable Russia would not have felt existentially threatened by its neighbors in tiny Georgia, nor by NATO.

There are other sensible things in the article which on the whole outweigh the ritualistic and conclusory Bush bashing and the equally ritualistic environmentalist denouement.

There They Go Again

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:28 pm

From BNE:

Russian Interior Ministry raids four law firms defending HSBC and the Hermitage Fund
August 22, 2008

Looks like the campaign against Bill Browder is gathering momentum as more bad news comes out of Russia. The below is a press release sent out by Hermitage Capital and follows on from a letter it circulated to investors describing a corporate raid on some of their assets (see the bne archive).

22 August 2008 – On the evening of August 20, 2008, four Moscow law firms defending
HSBC and the Hermitage Fund from an ongoing fraud in Russia were raided by officers from
the Moscow and Kazan branches of the Russian Interior Ministry. The raids specifically
targeted the lawyers because of their professional involvement on behalf of HSBC in legal
actions to recover ownership of three Hermitage Fund investment vehicles that were stolen
last year.

In an elaborate criminal scheme, corporate raiders – with the assistance of the Moscow
Interior Ministry – fraudulently changed the ownership of the three Russian investment
vehicles owned by HSBC. Subsequently, using forgeries and false contracts, the raiders
obtained court judgments against these vehicles and used these judgments to defraud the
Russian budget of $230 million that had been paid in taxes by the three Hermitage Fund
vehicles in 2006. In order to destroy evidence of the fraud, the new “owners” of the stolen
vehicles recently filed to liquidate and bankrupt them. The lawyers whose offices were raided
Wednesday night were challenging this in Russian courts. Several hearings on the matter had
been scheduled for the following day, August 21.

In total, four groups of Interior Ministry officers conducted the raids on the lawyers in

The first raid took place at 6:20pm and lasted until 10:30pm at the Bureau of Corporate
Consultants, a Moscow law firm. Five Interior Ministry officers seized the powers of attorney
issued by HSBC and Hermitage authorizing the lawyers to appear in court yesterday.

Fortunately, the lawyers were still able to appear because they had maintained duplicate
powers of attorney at an off-site location.

This type of thuggery will only worsen the case of the yips that is currently afflicting foreign investors–and Russian investors and small and medium size businesses lacking the right krysha–in the aftermath of Mechel and the midst of the Georgia imbroglio. It is also a case study in legal nihilism that everybody’s favorite liberal (in their dreams, anyways), Dmitri Medvedev, bewailed. Direct attacks by the agents of the state on the ability of private parties to obtain legal representation is antithetical to the operation of a law and rule-based state.

How many examples such as this will be required to remove the scales from the eyes of the credulous? In the face of such actions, why do some continue to deny that in Russia the law is a sword in the hands of the state, rather than a shield protecting the citizens from the predations of those in power?

The best defense of Putinism I have seen lately is an article in the Moscow Times (I’ll post the link later when I have time to track it down) which argues that a truly democratic Russia would be ruled by even more virulently anti-western and anti-market nationalists. The sad thing is that this may well be true. The ultimate problem is that the cult of the state is so deeply embedded in Russian political culture. The choice is between different flavors of gosudarstvenniki.

Who is Responsible?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:33 am

Any appraisal of responsibility for events spiraling out of control in Georgia depends crucially on where one commences the narrative. In justifying its actions, the Russian government starts the story on 8 August–the day the Georgian Army bombarded South Ossetia. In the Russian telling, this was a bolt from the blue, with no antecedent and no justification.

Things are quite a bit less clearcut when one goes back a bit further in time. The Georgian action followed a series of Russian actions, stretching back years, that threatened Georgia’s national interest. Going just back to 2006, there is the Russian economic blockade of Georgia, official and unofficial intimidation of Georgians in Russia, consistent support for separatists, issuance of Russian passports to residents of Georgia, repeated violations of Georgian airspace by Russian aircraft, including one episode in which a Russian jet dropped a missile on Georgian territory, the shoot downs of several Georgian reconnaissance drones, and constant propaganda attacks against the Georgian government. And in the very days leading up to 8 August, Ossetian paramilitaries under Russian observation–and likely control–launched a variety of attacks against Georgians.

Moreover, the circumstances of the Russian attack make it very clear that this was not intended to be a response to Georgian actions on 8 August. The rapidity with which the 58th Army moved into Georgia, and the coordinated nature of the air attack, all make it clear that this was a premeditated action with objectives far beyond protecting Ossetians and defending the status quo. Moreover, the explicit statements that the Russian governments objective was to overthrow Saakashvilli and the extension of the assault far beyond South Ossetia demonstrate a political objective far beyond protecting the Ossetians from Georgian predation. Add to this Russia’s clearcut economic interest in denying the west access to Georgia as an energy corridor and it is plainly evident that the Georgian action was merely a pretext, and the Ossetians merely pawns in a larger Russian game. Putin’s personal animus against Saakashvilli only gilds the lilly.

In the rush to blame the US (don’t worry–we’re used to it by now), Russia and its defenders in the west assert that Saakashvilli was a loose cannon that America should have restrained. Assuming for the sake of argument that Saakashvilli is in fact erratic and impulsive, if Russia’s true objective was to secure the safety of the Abkhazians and South Ossetians and defuse tensions on its southern border, why did Russia engage in such a long series of provocative acts?

Another meme gaining currency in the efforts to fix blame on the US is that the expansion of NATO made the Russians do it. (This brings to mind the revisionist view that the US forced the Japanese into war by embargoing oil and other strategic materials, thereby limiting its ability to rape China.) For a typical example of this “reasoning,” turn to the tedious Thomas Friedman, reliable source of LCW.

Friedman notes that George Kennan, the intellectual father of containment, argued that Russia would lash out against NATO expansion. The inference we are supposed to draw, of course, is that this means that expansion was an unwise course. In my view, this inference does not follow even if one accepts the premise. The desirability of NATO expansion depends crucially on the answer to the questions: Why would Russia feel compelled to lash out at NATO expansion? What did Russia fear from this expansion?

One possibility can be rejected out of hand based on a realistic appraisal of NATO’s capabilities. Specifically, that a NATO bordering Russia would present an offensive military threat to the RF. As I have noted repeatedly, western European militaries have no offensive capability whatsoever. Nor do the eastern Europeans. Nor does the US have the capability–let alone the desire–to engage in an offensive war on the broad plains and vast expanses of European Russia.

In brief, Russia has no objective basis to fear military attack from an expanded NATO. This leaves other possible explanations for Russia’s virulent opposition to it.

One is psychological–in a word, paranoia. I am reading Wayne Allensworth’s The Russian Question, a fairly evenhanded (if somewhat dated) analysis of the various strains of nationalism in Russia. Allensworth makes it clear that paranoia and conspiracy theories are a part of the political and intellectual mainstream in Russia. There is a longstanding belief held by many Russians that their nation is the subject of a vast conspiracy to subjugate or destroy it. Indeed, the level of paranoia and the belief in conspiracy theories in Russia rivals what is found in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and shares some of the same roots. Namely, both are societies that believe that they are a chosen people favored by God, yet who have suffered calamity after calamity; both rationalize this seeming incongruity with the belief that the only possible explanation is a vast plot designed to prevent them from achieving their destiny.

There is arguably a strong psychological element in Russia’s antipathy to NATO, but there are other more rational–though hardly flattering–factors at work as well. In particular, even though NATO does not realistically threaten Russia with attack, its expansion does constrain Russia’s ability to exert control in countries once under its thrall. NATO stands in the way of Russia regaining derzhava–great power status. For some, the appeal of this is merely material. For others, it is something more–a Russian manifest destiny, a God given mission. Thus, psychological and cultural factors are at work here as well.

Indeed, the desire of eastern Europeans and some former parts of the USSR (and the Russian Empire) to join NATO indicates quite clearly what those that know (based on bitter experience) Russian tendencies best believe–that absent protection by a powerful alliance, Russia would gobble them up.

In my judgment, therefore, the reason for Russian fury at the incorporation of the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Czech Republic in NATO, and the prospective incorporation of Georgia and Ukraine is that it threatens Russian dreams of restoring empire. Russia is a revanchist, irridentist, revisionist power. As such, anything that blocks its ambitions to reverse the results of the collapse of the USSR, and before it, the Russian Empire, is contrary to its national interests (and by national, I mean in the same sense of the word as “nationalist.”)

Viewed in this way, (a) Kennan’s prediction is quite reasonable, and (b) it does not necessarily follow from this prediction that the wise course would have been to refrain from NATO expansion. One needs to consider: What would have happened if NATO had not expanded? Peace and light, and the nations of the former White and Red empires holding hands and singing Kumbaya? As if. What we would have seen is a proliferation of Georgias, a plethora of flashpoints in the Baltics, the Balkans, and Poland. Routine efforts to intimidate, co-opt, undermine, destabilize, and coerce small nations so recently freed from the Soviet/Russian yoke. If NATO had not extended beyond the Elbe, Russia would not have been a pacific nation content to become a “normal country” (in the western conceit). It would have faced less resistance in pursuing its perceived national interest–a national interest which was and is inimical to the interests, peace, and freedom of formerly conquered peoples. The possibility for confrontation between Russia and the west would have been greater, not less.

In brief, Russia’s wrath at NATO is not the justifiable reaction of a state content to remain within the confines of its own borders, not threatening its neighbors. Instead, it is a window on its true nature. Those–like Thomas Friedman–who believe that if we’d only limited NATO to Germany and nations to the west that events like those we’ve observed in Georgia would have been avoided are deluding themselves. NATO expansion limited the scope for violent confrontation with Russia, and significantly, violence occurred precisely where NATO conspicuously refused to draw a line.

Georgia was a conflagration waiting to happen. An energy crossroads that threatened Russia’s stranglehold on suppliers to the east and south, and consumers to the west. A nation outside of NATO’s explicit security guarantee. (Anybody remember that Stalin and Kim Il-Sung interpreted Dean Acheson’s failure to include Korea in a list of countries America was committed to defend as an invitation to invade?) A nation deeply scarred by centuries of foreign oppression, and led by a volatile and impulsive president. It defies reason to believe that this powderkeg would not have exploded if NATO had minded its knitting on the far side of the Elbe. It would have blown sooner, and many others would have likely exploded as well. Saakashvilli and Putin determined the timing of the blast, but only that.

The logical consequence of this argument is exactly the opposite of what the Friedmans and Steinmeiers of the world argue. They counsel backing off, giving Russia space, confidence building, yadda yadda. Wrong. Maintaining the peace, and securing the autonomy of formerly captive nations requires a robust response–starting in Georgia. Yesterday. Putin will howl. The Russian military will threaten. But this we can live with. The alternative, the people of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus cannot live with–in peace, anyways.

And maybe, if Russia finally comes to recognize that its dreams of restored glory and empire are foreclosed, its energies will be sublimated into more constructive activities, such as addressing its myriad domestic troubles. But perhaps it is the very intractability of these problems that makes external adventures so alluring.

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