Streetwise Professor

September 20, 2009

Condemned By His Own Words

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 3:30 pm

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is shocked! shocked! that people would think that Russia had anything to do with the decision to scrap the Polish/Czech BMD facilities:

“Russia’s attitude and possible reaction played no part in my recommendation to the president on this issue. Of course, considering Russia’s past hostility toward American missile defense in Europe, if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part,” he said.

Please, Dr. Gates, don’t insult our intelligence.  Or, if you’re not insulting our intelligence, you are damning yours, Hillary’s, and Obama’s and that of anybody else that had a hand in this decision.

Such decisions are deeply embedded in a political context.  You can no more make these decisions in a political vacuum than you can suspend the law of gravity.

Let’s stipulate–though this premise is arguable–that the proposed Polish/Czech-based system is inferior to alternatives.  That is the essence of Gates’s argument, so I’ll grant it.

Even given that stipulation, the decision, and the way in which it was executed and revealed was a colossal blunder.  It was a blunder because it incurred unnecessary costs and threw away achievable benefits.

Rule 1 of decision making: leverage your decisions.  The proposed BMD system clearly drove Putin, his ilk, and the Russian military nuts.  The reasons may be conjectured: they thought it a legitimate threat (it wasn’t really, but given their paranoid tendencies, quite plausible); or, they just objected to the extension of American military presence into what they consider Russia’s “zone of privileged interests.”  The reason is immaterial, though. The fact is that the Russians were willing to give up something tangible in exchange for the suspension of the initiative.

In turn, the US, and those it supposedly considers its allies and friends, are interested in some things from Russia.  These include a moderation of the belligerence in the ex-Soviet space, and assistance with Iran and Afghanistan.

In other words, given the stipulation, there were gains from trade here.  So trade.  Make a deal.  One that is verifiable, and enforceable, or self-enforcing.

Just giving it away in an episode of The Hope and Change Innocent Abroad is beyond foolish.  It is a chump move.  I can guarantee that’s not the way they do it in Chicago.  All the Aldermen and all their pinkie-ringed men would be guffawing uncontrollably if the mayor had made such a unilateral concession on a dreamy wish and a prayer that such generosity would be reciprocated.

Memo to Obama: when dealing with the Russians, imagine yourself negotiating with the most hardcore ward heeler.

It’s not like we don’t have a historical example to emulate.  Reagan played Gorbachev and the Soviets like a violin when it came to missile defense.  Saying no is sometimes the best way to get to yes.  Saying yes before the negotiations even begin is idiotic.

This is only one of the blunders involved here.  When your friends have taken risks in cooperating with you, you don’t unilaterally reverse course and leave them exposed and resentful.  You cooperate with them in altering course.  You’d think Mr. Hopey Changey Anti-Bush would avoid unilateral policy reversals that treat other nations that have taken huge political risks, and shed blood alongside Americans, as irrelevancies to be tossed aside when convenient.

And you don’t inform them with last minute phone calls (presumably because the decision had already leaked and it was necessary to get in front of the news).  And you don’t do it on a day of great, historical sensitivity.

It’s hard to think of such an important decision being made and announced in such a callous, undiplomatic, hasty, impolitic, and clumsy way.

But perhaps the biggest blunder is to think–as Gates suggests–that such a decision can be depoliticized. Such decisions are inherently political, and will be interpreted as such.  Duh.

Thus, it is necessary to consider how others will interpret the decision.  Given the salience that Russian petulance had given the BMD installations in Eastern Europe, it was as inevitable as the eastern sunrise that this would be interpreted as a concession to Russia, and as a choice of Russia over the Poles, Czechs, Balts–and Ukrainians and Georgians, etc.

Moreover, it is necessary to think very specifically about how key players–notably the Russians and Iranians–would interpret the decision.  Anyone knowing the slightest about the Russian, zero-sum, old-school, power-politics mindset would know that Putin et al would interpret this as an admission of weakness, and a clear signal that Russian truculence and revanchism would result in concession and retreat.  Thus, anyone with such (even slight) knowledge would predict that the likely response to this decision will be a more aggressive, aggrieved, and demanding Russia, not less.

This line from Gates is beyond belief: “if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part.”  Well, no sh*t they are going to “embrace the plan.”  Hell, they’re going to rejoice; we gave them what they wanted, and demanded nothing in return.  But “embrac[ing] the plan” (i.e., “accepting a gift”) and “changing policy” are two different things.  It’s cringe-making to read such silly statements from those responsible for US national security.

The Iranians, for their part, almost certainly interpret the decision in the same way.  And Obama has given them–and North Korea–myriad other indications that the more difficult that they are, the more accommodating Obama tries to be.

Thus, Gates’s statement that the decision was not political, and was made independently of any calculation of the Russian reaction, is almost as embarrassing as the decision itself.  You don’t get to choose the context of a decision, or how others interpret it.  And in politics and diplomacy, those things are vitally important.  To paraphrase Clauswitz, national security is politics carried out by other means.  There is no such thing as a purely military or technical strategic choice.  Indeed, such a concept is ridiculous.  National security is all about making decisions to advance a nation’s political interests.  The political consequences and costs must be weighed.

It was inevitable that this entire decision would be viewed universally through the prism of US-Russian relations.  To act otherwise is utterly foolish.  As a result, the US incurred large and unnecessary political and reputational costs, and frivolously discarded real benefits, in making a hasty, unilateral decision that willfully attempted to ignore the real and obvious political context of the decision.

Gates–and by implication Obama–is either lying by denying that the political implications of this decision were irrelevant, or is not competent to make such weighty security judgments.

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  1. “The fact is that the Russians were willing to give up something tangible in exchange for the suspension of the initiative.”

    Perhaps the administration were paid in advance by Russia providing an alternative to NATOs threatened supply lines through Pakistan.

    It’s not like we don’t have a historical example to emulate. Reagan played Gorbachev and the Soviets like a violin when it came to missile defense. Saying no is sometimes the best way to get to yes. Saying yes before the negotiations even begin is idiotic.”

    I’m sure Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin have profited from study of how Gorbachev got played. Yeltsin too.

    “When your friends have taken risks in cooperating with you, you don’t unilaterally reverse course and leave them exposed and resentful. You cooperate with them in altering course. You’d think Mr. Hopey Changey Anti-Bush would avoid unilateral policy reversals that treat other nations that have taken huge political risks, and shed blood alongside Americans, as irrelevancies to be tossed aside when convenient.”

    The “nations” in question never thought much of the idea to begin with, as shown by public opinion polling there. Therefore I very much doubt whether the Czech or Polish “nations” are particularly put out.

    Now, Russophobic Czech and Polish politicians are another matter entirely, though I see no reason to be upset that they’re upset.

    Comment by rkka — September 20, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

  2. Wasn’t Russia’s economy supposed to rebound in August, having hit bottom, on way to cutting 10% contraction to 8% by year’s end?

    No such luck, Russophile scum.

    Retail sales down by largest margin in a decade.

    GDP contraction also dramatically worsened.

    Did somebody say “double dip”?

    Seems like that shameless liar SUBLIME DURAK owes yet another apology. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it, though.

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 21, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

  3. I said it would rebound in H2, and it will if nothing else but from the base effect (the fact that Russia’s GDP fell a lot in Q4, so even assuming it remains in an L-shaped slump its y/y figures should improve). There is no current evidence of a double dip.

    The Russophobe scum still have to admit their mistakes about the effects of the economic crisis on Russia’s demography. They said it would fall catastrophically (Michel, can you remind me of the terms of our bet?). Whereas in reality, that magical realm unreachable by the Russophobic mind, in H1, y/y, the birth rate is up by 4.2% and the death rate is down by 4.0%. (

    Comment by poluchi fashist granatu — September 21, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  4. “Now, Russophobic Czech and Polish politicians are another matter entirely, though I see no reason to be upset that they’re upset.”


    On the mssile defense issue, they aren’t in sync with the majority of public opinion in the Czech Republic and Poland.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 12:55 am

  5. The Great Gazoo Returns: “Don’t Scrap The Missile Shield, Dumb-Dumbs!”

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 6:01 am

  6. President Barack Obama lost the support of many good people in Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States and Ukraine. This may translate, as well, to a loss of support among Americans of Polish descent. Yesterday, 17 September, is the day on which Soviet dictator Josef Stalin joined Hitler in crushing and raping Poland 70 years ago. And it was this day that the U.S. president decided to nix a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, claiming that there were better ways of strengthening “America’s defenses against ballistic missile attack.”

    The strategic significance of the decision is fourfold: (1) Appeasement in the wake of Russian threats against Poland; (2) appeasement in the wake of Russia’s bullying of Ukraine (by Moscow’s withdrawal of its ambassador to Kiev); (3) appeasement less than 14 months after Russia’s invasion of Georgia; (4) appeasement as an expression of NATO policy, adopted by the new leadership in Washington.

    If you want to understand the impact of the president’s policy, Americans should consult their brothers in Ukraine and Poland. Ask them why Russian bullying should not be rewarded. It is realistic to say that roughly half the Ukrainian population was exterminated by the Russian communists between 1917 and 1950. When the Soviet armies invaded eastern Poland on 17 September 1939, a series of massacres took place that included the “liquidation” of at least 21,000 Polish army officers and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens to Soviet concentration camps. If anyone understands what these figures signify to millions of Poles and Ukrainians, then think of the six million Jewish victims of Hitler; only you’ll have to triple the number of victims. (Here we are only discussing Moscow’s Polish and Ukrainian victims, forgetting for the moment that Moscow probably butchered 60 million human beings, according to Prof. R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii. See Rummel’s chart, figure 1.1

    These innocent millions, cut down by Russia’s security services, are matched by millions more enslaved and forced to work for starvation wages in Stalin’s gulag. Their suffering testifies to a legacy unlike any the world has ever seen (with the exception of its imitators in Red China and Red Cambodia). From the Kremlin’s point of view, these lives were necessary sacrifices in the construction of an unprecedented war machine, far larger than Hitler’s. It was Stalin’s objective to build tens of thousands of tanks and guns and war planes in order to overwhelm Europe. There was no profit in this project, only the promise of war and conquest. As Viktor Suvorov explains in his book on Stalin, titled The Chief Culprit, Poland was sacrificed because, according to Stalin, “History says that when any country wants to fight against another country, even one that it does not neighbor, it begins to seek out borders, through which it could reach the borders of the country it wants to attack.” In other words, Stalin wanted an open path to the heart of Europe. And that is why Moscow forbids Poland and the Czech Republic from building a European missile defense today. By breaking up this joint defensive project with America, the Russians drive a wedge between Poland and the United States.

    Under Vladimir Putin the Russian state is following Stalin’s old program. The regime in Moscow makes its subjects afraid and prepares to extend this fear to all of Europe. Who dares to act or think or speak independently? People in Russia are careful not to upset the Kremlin bosses; and so is the American president. Perhaps someone should remind the White House of a boast published by Pravda before the Second World War: “Our country is great. The globe itself needs to rotate nine hours in order for our huge Soviet country to enter the new year of its victories. There will be a time when it will need for this not nine hours, but a whole twenty-four….”

    Sentiments of this kind are brewing behind the high Kremlin walls even now. Russia’s agents are busy undermining the sovereignty of Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Poland. Russia’s agents have penetrated to the core of every important country. They have assassinated journalists and critics at home and abroad, using a variety of instruments. Last year an attempt was made to poison the offices of the chairman of the Ukrainian State Property Fund (FGI), Valentina Semenyuk, with mercury. This occurred after Semenyuk successfully stopped an attempt by Moscow’s front men to take control of one of Ukraine’s most important strategic assets (Odessa’s port plant). Readers should be reminded that Ukraine’s President, Victor Yushchenko, was poisoned during the 2004 election campaign by security personnel who are now on Russian territory, shielded and protected. In a recent interview with Spiegel Online President Yushchenko explained that the investigation had been completed, that state prosecutors had interviewed over a thousand witnesses. “People who directly organized my poisoning have been in Moscow for the past four years,” said the Ukrainian president. “I have appealed to the Russian president three times, and asked him to have them questioned by Ukrainian investigators at our embassy in Moscow.”

    Consider the message President Obama is sending when he appeases Russia on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Poland. Imagine what the Poles and Ukrainians must be thinking. Can we trust Washington? Will the Americans betray us to the Russians?,1518,647401,00.html

    Comment by Oleg — September 22, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  7. Oleg

    The Ukrainians at large oppose their country joining NATO. In addition, the candidate leading in the polls for the Ukrainian presidency is openly sympathetic to a number of core Russian positions.

    In Poland and the Czech Republic, public opinion was against the now scrapped missile defense shield.

    Some of your stated stats appear bloated.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  8. Oleg

    Opinions on how Yushchenko was poisoned shouldn’t be confused as facts.

    On this matter, Tymoshenko was petitioned by Yushchenko’s presidency last year, in a way which suggestively hinted that she might’ve been involved in his poisoning.

    Awhile back, I recall it being said that as a Machiavellian sort, a Reichstag Fire like incident on her part wasn’t out of the question.

    As of now, opinions rather than solid facts seem to involve this issue.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 22, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

  9. @Oleg,

    You are a pathetic plagiarist (from that nutjob Nyquist – But a good reflection of the kinds of people populating the ranks of the rabid Russophobe movement.

    Comment by poluchi fashist granatu — September 22, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

  10. poluchi fashist granatu:

    If you think you can rely on Russian data concerning the country’s population, you are even stupider than I thought:

    Read it and weep, you lying lunatic.

    Comment by La Russophobe — September 22, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

  11. Acknowledging the Deception

    J. R. Nyquist Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest.

    His brilliant, diligent struggle against FSB ‘s propaganda is commendable.

    Russia can use its secret agent networks to blackmail executives, politicians and intellectuals. Journalists can be bought inexpensively, as it turns out. The disinformation campaigns of the 60s, 70s and 80s have laid the groundwork for a great deception. The West thinks they are dealing with a new entity in Russia. Yet they are still dealing with the house that Stalin built.

    “My feeling is that the old personnel management system has been reinstalled from Soviet times,” said Kalashnikov, explaining how the secret police can deprive uncooperative citizens of a livelihood. “In the Soviet Union your personnel file followed you whenever you changed from one job to another. Your employer sees any black marks set down by previous employers, and my former employer [the KGB] was eager to make life as difficult as possible. They wanted to press us to the degree that we would admit our defeat and failure, reconsidering our behavior.”

    Comment by Oleg — September 26, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

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