Small Wars Journal

Open Letter to President Obama

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 2:44pm

Open Letter to President Obama: Secure Ukraine, Isolate Russia, and Strengthen NATO

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fifty former U.S. government officials and foreign policy experts have signed a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama, urging a decisive response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.  The group recommends responsible steps “to strengthen Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic transition, to impose real costs on the government of President Vladimir Putin, and to enhance the deterrence posture of NATO.”
The full text of the letter follows. The letter was organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a non-profit and non-partisan 501(c)3 organization that promotes U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military engagement in the world.


March 21, 2014

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As Russia moves ahead with its illegal annexation of Crimea, we share your determination to “isolate Russia for its actions and to reassure our allies and partners.”  America’s next steps should be designed to strengthen Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic transition, to impose real costs on the government of President Vladimir Putin, and to enhance the deterrence posture of NATO.

Russia’s invasion of Crimea threatens the democracy that the Ukrainian people have sacrificed so much to achieve.  A critical test of Ukraine’s newfound freedom will be its presidential elections on May 25, which Russia may seek to disrupt.  As you have noted, Russia must recognize “the rights of all Ukrainians to determine their future as free individuals, and as a sovereign nation.”  In order to help Ukraine secure its democratic transition, the United States should:

  • Provide Ukraine’s transitional government with technical expertise, international monitors, and other assistance for the May presidential election.  The United States should also enhance support for the civil institutions that are necessary to consolidate Ukraine’s democratic gains.
  • Approve loan guarantees to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy, while working with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and other partners to provide long-term support for economic reforms in Ukraine.
  • Conduct an assessment of Ukraine’s self-defense needs and expand the scope and scale of U.S. military assistance available to the government of Ukraine, including intelligence sharing, training, and other support for Ukrainian forces, in coordination with NATO and the European Union.

Washington and its international partners should also impose real costs on Vladimir Putin and his key supporters.  In this effort, we must distinguish between the corrupt regime surrounding Putin, and the Russian people who are the victims of his misrule.  In this regard, it is essential to fully utilize the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 and other legal authorities to sanction gross human rights violators in Russia.  The United States should:

  • Increase the number of Russian officials who are subject to sanctions, including President Putin and those closest to him, both for their role in the invasion of Ukraine and the gross violations of human rights described under the Magnitsky Act.
  • Expand the scope of sanctions in order to isolate Russian financial institutions and businesses that are either complicit in Russia’s invasion in Ukraine or support the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The designation of Bank Rossiya is an important first step in this effort.
  • Expose the extent of political and economic corruption among the senior leadership of the Russian Federation, including an unclassified report on the assets of President Putin and other senior Russian officials.
  • Suspend all civil nuclear cooperation pursuant to the “123” Agreement that was entered into force between the United States and the Russian Federation in December 2010.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine poses a threat to all its neighbors, including our NATO allies among the Baltic States and Poland.  We believe that the United States and its NATO partners must reexamine commitments under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act to refrain from deploying additional forces into former Warsaw Pact countries, as Russia’s recent actions demonstrate that the “current and foreseeable security environment” described in the Act has changed.  In this regard, the United States should:

  • Conduct an assessment on how to strengthen NATO’s deterrence posture vis-à-vis Russia, including the deployment of additional ground forces, missile defenses, or other assets to former Warsaw Pact members of NATO.  Your deployment of U.S. fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltic States is an important first step in this regard.
  • Press America’s NATO allies to agree to a Membership Action Plan for Georgia at the NATO Summit scheduled for September 2014, while expanding U.S. military rotations to Georgia.  The United States should also support Ukraine, Sweden, Finland, and other European security partners, if they seek NATO membership.
  • Work to reduce European dependence on Russian natural gas, including by expanding liquefied natural gas exports from the United States, as well as supporting new pipelines into the Continent and other proposals to diversify Europe’s energy supplies, such as developing indigenous natural gas reserves.

We believe that these responsible steps will be essential to secure Ukraine’s future, to deter the Putin government from further acts of aggression, and to strengthen the NATO alliance and other security partnerships.  We thank you for your consideration, and look forward to supporting you in taking these measures.



Dr. Michael Auslin

Craig Kennedy


Dan Blumenthal

James Kirchick


Ambassador John R. Bolton

David Kramer


Max Boot

William Kristol


Ambassador L. Paul Bremer

Dr. Robert J. Lieber


Senator Norm Coleman

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman


Ambassador William Courtney

Tod Lindberg


Seth Cropsey

Mary Beth Long


Jack David

Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken


Dr. Larry Diamond

Robert C. McFarlane


Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky

Thomas C. Moore


Thomas Donnelly

Dr. Joshua Muravchik


Dr. Colin Dueck

Governor Tim Pawlenty


Dr. Nicholas N. Eberstadt

Dr. Martin Peretz


Ambassador Eric S. Edelman

Danielle Pletka


Douglas J. Feith

Arch Puddington


Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin

Randy Scheunemann


Reuel Marc Gerecht

Dr. Gary J. Schmitt


Christopher J. Griffin

Dan Senor


General Michael Hayden

Vance Serchuk


Dr. William C. Inboden

Dr. Daniel Twining


Ash Jain

Ambassador Kurt Volker


Dr. Kenneth D. M. Jensen

Dr. Kenneth R. Weinstein


Ambassador Robert G. Joseph

Leon Wieseltier


Dr. Frederick W. Kagan

Robert Zarate



Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 1:20pm

Research is hard for many of our finest foreign policy and military pundits, it seems. Julia Ioffe comes to mind but then it is The New Republic we are talking about:

This 1995 Strobe Talbott piece on NATO expansion is about as confused and contradictory as the Talbottian Brookings wallah South Asian stuff. I know the retrospectoscope is powerful, but what an intellectual and conceptual mess:… has decided it should accept new members for three main reasons.

<blockquote>Collective defense remains an imperative need of European and transatlantic security, and central to American engagement in Europe. The end of Soviet communism, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the breakup of the USSR have eliminated the threat that NATO was created to counter during the cold war. But new threats may arise that would require NATO to protect its members and to deter attack. During the cold war, membership in the Alliance was limited by the artificial division of Europe into two camps. With the cold war’s end, NATO should be open to the new democracies that have regained their independence, that share common values, and that can advance the military and political goals of the Alliance.

The prospect of being admitted to NATO provides the nations of Central Europe and the former Soviet Union with additional incentives to strengthen their democratic and legal institutions, ensure civilian command of their armed forces, liberalize their economies, and respect human rights, including the rights of national minorities. In short, nations that are encouraged in their aspirations to join NATO are more likely to make a successful transition from their communist past.

The prospect of membership can also foster among the nations of Central Europe and the former Soviet Union a greater willingness to resolve disputes peacefully and contribute to peace-keeping operations. Thus the process of expansion can help to promote regional stability and peace.</blockquote>

What I've noticed many in the military do is project a sort of perfect idea of NATO as a defensive alliance onto the messy project of democratization and 90's era rooted nation-building project it has been. Add it to local politics within a background of global power politics and you have the disaster you see before you today.

And the nukes. No one ever wants to talk about how Russian nuclear doctrine or how the meddling by all sides takes us to a very dark place.

After Iraq, you'd think people could spot American Foreign Policy propaganda but I guess if it fulfills some emotional need to be at war with a forever enemy worthy of a certain type of American maleness or femaleness, then what the heck, eh?

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 2:11pm

2008 statement from then Senator Hillary Clinton (2008 Presidential Candidate)

Very similar to 90's era speech from Bill Clinton and his attempts to create a domestic constituency for NATO expansion and counteract critics who said he was too domestically focused. You can see echos in the Open Letter to President Obama in its attempts to leverage a kind of domestic American partisan space.

<blockquote>I enthusiastically welcome the January 11 letter from Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Verkhovna Rada Chairman Arsenii Yatsenyuk to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, which outlines Ukraine's desire for a closer relationship with NATO, including a Membership Action Plan. Like Ukraine's leaders, I hope that important steps toward reaching these goals will be made at the NATO summit in Bucharest in early April. I applaud the fact that Ukraine aspires to anchor itself firmly in the trans-Atlantic community through membership in NATO and look forward to working with Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans to reach that goal.
Since the earliest days of Ukrainian independence, the strategy of the United States has always been to respect and support the Ukrainian people's democratic choices in shaping their future. Ukraine has been and remains an extremely important partner for the United States, and I take great pride in Ukraine's contributions to our common goal of building a Europe that is whole and free, peaceful and prosperous.

When I traveled to Ukraine in 1997, I visited a memorial to the victims of Communist repression in Lviv, and made a commitment to the Ukrainian people on behalf of the United States: "In your fight for freedom, your fight for democracy, the American people will stand with you." In recalling that commitment more than ten years later I applaud the immense contributions that Ukrainian-Americans have made to our country and the indispensable role they have played in broadening and deepening the bonds between the United States and Ukraine. I have been greatly impressed by the courage of the Ukrainian people as they emerged from decades of Soviet oppression and as they have experienced both victories and struggles on the path to democracy and freedom.


The United States has always favored the closest possible ties between NATO and Ukraine, including the creation of the NATO-Ukraine Council. We have always insisted on an open door policy for European democracies that want to join the Alliance. The enlargement of NATO is not directed against any state; NATO does not see any nation as its enemy. I pledge to support Ukraine's efforts to meet the criteria for MAP and eventual membership. The United States should actively encourage our NATO Allies to deepen their own ties with Ukraine, a country that has broken with an authoritarian past and pursues good relations with all its neighbors. Ukraine deserves a chance to pursue its aspirations for a wider role in the Euro-Atlantic community. In the same spirit, I call on the Bush Administration to give Ukraine all the support it needs to complete its accession to the World Trade Organization.

As President, I will ensure that the United States does everything necessary to help Ukraine realize these important and achievable goals.</blockquote) - 2008 statement from then Senator Hillary Clinton

But as events have shown, our system did more than promote democracy, it actively chose sides and supported candidates, interfered in European strategies and so on. It's as likely that we prevented a kind of democratic space from opening up as we supported it. Hard to know, so many outsiders were messing around in 'the system', plus the system itself has a lot of issues.

Ned McDonnell III

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 3:12pm

In reply to by soldiernolonge…


Please pardon the confusion on your combat duty in Iraq; I salute your service to my country. Besides, what you are saying makes sense.


Fri, 04/18/2014 - 9:58am

I'm struggling to determine what, if anything, a helicopter driver can tell us about grand strategy. Beyond the tactical implementation of air strikes or vertical insertions or whatever else can be done with the platform, what would a pilot, by dint of his or her profession, know about the realm of force or suasion in the highest clouds of diplomacy, economics, intelligence or military applications?

Perhaps before one trots out the CV and pushes mere credentials as a form of rhetoric, one should pursue a line of reasoning, culling examples from history or other disciplines.

But I digress...


Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:57pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III


I don't want there to be any misunderstanding here.. I am a pilot and have been overseas and flown in the land of the two rivers. They even shot at us there once or twice. But I am forever a civilian, a fixed wing pilot only and when they did shoot at us we were in about as much danger as if somebody shot a .22 at you from a mile and a quarter away...into the wind. None of which gives me any insight into of much anything except I do know for darn sure you do not want to fly into a haboob.

Thank you very much for the thought though. I appreciate it.

Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 9:34pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu, what is your background? What entitles you to treat a helicopter pilot in a hot war as if he were some dilettante? What enables you to proclaim anyone as unserious? Here is my background:
"Edward J. McDonnell III, CFA has integrated a previous career in international banking into several tours of developmental diplomacy in provincial reconstruction teams, host-country institutions, a U.S. Embassy and a U.S. Army command through work with the Departments of State and Defense as well as USAID and the Peace Corps."

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 8:46pm

In reply to by soldiernolonge…

You're right SNL. My comment was unfair.

My deepest apologies carl. Please forgive me for such a mean spirited tone and accusatory comment.


Thu, 04/17/2014 - 8:18pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Dr M, I hereby invoke an intervention. Once you spatchcock Tom Clancy, LBJ and Rashad Mahmood in the same comment we must retire you for at least a fortnight.

It's in the SWJ rulebook.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 1:48pm

In reply to by carl

No. That's not what I'm saying.

NATO expansion in the 90's was viewed as a global policing force. This diluted their capabilities and they took their eye off of European defense.

You are not helping anyone by wishing away NATO incompetence. There were many ways to arrange for Eastern European defense but various constituencies prevented them from coming up with a more viable defense plans.

It's not a difficult concept if you think it through. Doing is hard, but the concept isn't difficult.

But not thinking it through is sort of like when you thought that the Afghan surge was a good idea even though it basically put more money into the hands of the very people we were surging against.

This is like your fascination with the very Generals whose idea it was to pay the Pak Army for COIN. Think it through. If you are going to poke the bear, at least be smart enough to do it correctly. And if you are mad at Generals paying an army, then don't be those Generals biggest defender around here.

How hard is this? It's guys like you that prevented NATO from coming up with a more robust and viable European defense plan because they wanted the Americans in front. This is adult business. It's not a child's game or some kind of game of online RISK for blog readers that think the world is a Tom Clancy novel. MAD is still in effect. Serious people are warning this is dangerous. People who've had actual responsibility for planning what to do if the US is hit.

It's not a game. Not Eisenhower, not Johnson, not Kennedy, not Nixon, not Carter, not Reagan, not Bush I took the war hot. There was a reason for this.


Many of the people posting around here are unserious people. Whatever my faults, I am a serious person. I don't treat this stuff as a game for my amusement.


Thu, 04/17/2014 - 1:33pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


This falls into the category of the 'Poor old Putin and the poor old Russians. Can you blame them for being thugs and killers? We forced them into it. If only we had been nicer...' school of argument.

I don't think so. A scorpion is a scorpion no matter how nice you are to it; and Putin is still Vlad the (I've almost made it) Would Be Conquerer.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 1:20pm

​Fascinating. Digging through 90's era op eds, newspaper articles, and congressional hearing transcripts, you find so many warnings about NATO expansion.

And it's not an either/or thing. The WAY in which it was done and its context is very important:

<blockquote>Russia is the main opponent to this expansion, because it interprets this as an increasing military presence on its borders. There is also a concern over old territorial claims to parts of Russia's new neighbors that Moscow may try to pursue subsequently. <strong>For example, one vague scenario is of Russian intervention in the Eastern Ukraine to "protect the lives and property of Russian citizens".</strong> Despite this, there has been a detectable thaw in Moscow's opposition to NATO expansion as its leadership recognizes that the alliance no longer poses a threat to Russia, and this should be a manageable concern. For example, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov recently stated the following: "I have become convinced NATO is not a threat to Russia, but I have millions to convince in Russia who are still worried that it is a threat."(2) </blockquote>

United States Marine Corps
Command and Staff College
Marine Corps University
2076 South Street
Marine Corps Combat Development Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134-5068
Captain Gyula Bene, Hungarian Army
<strong>AY: 1996-97</strong>

If NATO expansion had occurred in a different way, without the stripping of the Russian economy, without aggressive democracy promotion as regime change, without Iraq and Libya and a "global" NATO diluting its capabilities, and so on, what then?

Counterfactuals. Hard but always interesting.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 9:50pm

<blockquote>Senator Durbin’s ethnic Lithuanian profile is less well-known outside of Central Illinois....Rep. Durbin also was a leader of the Congressional Baltic Caucus and wrote/sponsored several important resolutions in support of Lithuania before and after independence came in 1991. As a U.S. Senator since 1996, Dick has continued to assist Lithuania over the years, most significantly with its entry into NATO.</blockquote>…

While I have great admiration and sympathy for some of the communities in the US that lobbied for NATO expansion, it didn't happen in an orderly way within any kind of strategic framework. It was an ad hoc, money making, pandering, sort of thing and its come back to bite the US in the a$$. And one wonders if the expat community prevented a better way of organizing defense for certain countries because they created false expectations. A shame.

And apparently no one got the British Ukranian business reference, did they? One set of oligarchs fighting another set, with innocent Ukranians in between. Anyone wishing to join the EU should read the fine print, especially toward everyday people. Remember, the bankers always get paid first. And the big three (UK, France, Germany) have no intention of making any hard sanction calls, none whatsoever. No American President can change this reality.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 9:42pm

Retro 90's history, young Americans:

<strong>April 29, 1998, Phyllis Schafly, Eagle Forum</strong>

<blockquote>The Senate is scheduled to vote this week on the centerpiece of Clinton's global plans, the NATO Expansion Treaty. Because this treaty would control our foreign policy for decades into the future, we are entitled to have the answers to these twenty questions before the vote.

Why are you committing America to go to war to defend the borders of faraway countries that were Communist until a few years ago? Under NATO's Article V, we must "forthwith" go to war to defend any NATO member against attack.

Why are you giving a foreign organization (NATO) the power to commit America to war? The U.S. Constitution gives the power "to declare war" to Congress, not to NATO, or to the United Nations to which NATO is tied by eight references in its charter.

Why are you trying to perpetuate a Cold War alliance that successfully finished its mission? The threat that NATO was designed to protect us from is no more; the Cold War is over.

Why are you repudiating the Reagan policy of Peace Through Strength? Ronald Reagan built up our military power so we didn't have to use it, but the Clinton-Albright policy is to involve us in every conflict in order to show "world leadership."

Why did you pass a law in 1996 to force U.S. taxpayers to guarantee payment for the weapons that the new NATO countries are obligated to buy to upgrade their military forces? Let's have full disclosure of the PAC donations every member of the Senate has received from U.S. corporations that will profit from this law.

Is NATO Expansion a mechanism to institutionalize the Bosnian model? It's now obvious that Clinton lied about dates and plans to exit Bosnia, and that Bosnia was always a plan to use American troops as global cops and social workers on a permanent basis.

What is NATO's plan for dealing with the impending conflict in Vojvodina? Which side will NATO take? Is there any reason to use NATO troops to defend one side rather than the other?

Does "collective security" mean that the U.S. does the securing and all other countries do the collecting? If Eastern Europe needs "collective security," why isn't wealthy Western Europe handling the challenge instead of bleeding Uncle Sap?

Can you assure us that the NATO Expansion Treaty is not like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that put America on the track to the Vietnam War? Or that NATO Expansion is not a slippery slope to perpetual conflicts, falsely disguised as "peacekeeping" and with a huge potential for warmaking?

Please list the additional countries that you anticipate will join NATO Expansion. Clinton has already promised Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and, in his Letter of Transmittal to the Senate, he promised that "no qualified European democracy is ruled out as a future member" of NATO.

Is there any rationale for admitting some countries and excluding others? Why not admit Kosovo, Bosnia, Ukraine, and all the former Captive Nations of the former Soviet Union?

What is the definition of "out-of-area" NATO interests that Madeleine Albright has already testified will include the Middle East and Central Africa? Isn't NATO Expansion just a new mini-United Nations to get around the fact that the only people still enthusiastic about the UN are Ted Turner and Jane Fonda?

Why are you letting our fair-weather friends in Western Europe off the hook for their refusal to admit Eastern European countries into the European Union (EU)? That's what Albright ought to be demanding that they do, instead of putting the burden on America to admit them into the NATO military alliance.

Why are we alienating Russia (with its awesome store of nuclear weapons) at a time when we should be encouraging cooperation and stability? Russia considers NATO Expansion an unfriendly act because it will put NATO troops directly on Russia's borders.

and so on....</blockquote>

And before anyone says, yeah, but 9-11 changed things and the neocons and ought-cons got it, remember, the Atlanticists and some neocons are the biggest block-and-tacklers for the Saudi/Pakistan axis.

It's one reason you didn't get your Northern Distribution route earlier. It's one reason that China jumped ahead so quickly while the Atlanticists were obsessed with Europe.

Plenty of European centric proposals for defense were, well, proposed. They were squashed by various constituencies, and the writers of this letter are among that group. They are partly to blame for the situation today. By pushing Iraq, by preventing Europeans from focusing on their own defense, by pushing NATO expansion and regime change, sorry, democracy promotion IN RUSSIA, the geniuses helped to get us to today.

None of this takes away from domestic Russian or other factors.

There is no end to the being made fools of, is there?

... "The best way to deal with Russia’s aggression in Crimea is not to present it as routine and national interest-based foreign policy that will be countered by Washington in a contest between two great powers. It is to point out, as Obama did eloquently this week in Brussels, that Russia is grossly endangering a global order that has benefited the entire world.

Compare what the Obama administration has managed to organize in the wake of this latest Russian aggression to the Bush administration’s response to Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008. That was a blatant invasion. Moscow sent in tanks and heavy artillery; hundreds were killed, nearly 200,000 displaced. Yet the response was essentially nothing. This time, it has been much more serious. Some of this difference is in the nature of the stakes, but it might also have to do with the fact that the Obama administration has taken pains to present Russia’s actions in a broader context and get other countries to see them as such.

You can see a similar pattern with Iran. The Bush administration largely pressured that country bilaterally. The Obama administration was able to get much more effective pressure because it presented Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to global norms of nonproliferation, persuaded the other major powers to support sanctions, enacted them through the United Nations and thus ensured that they were comprehensive and tight. This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century." ...…

Outlaw 09

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 4:19pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill---there was an article today in the Huffington Post in German from an Russian security advisor to Putin from 2000 to 2005 who in fact claims that he has a tendency to think in nationalistic terms and if not stopped the Baltics and especially Finland are on the hit list--Finland surprised me but he argued that Putin sees the 1917 agreement creating Finland to be a sell out of the creation of the SU.

He further indicated that Putin viewed Finland as not being a NATO member thus the West would not/could not interfere.

This might in fact be the thinking at high levels inside NATO in the rush to position NATO assets in the Baltics with even the Germans providing up to four AWACS and the naval command vessel for a NATO naval element for the Baltics which they announced today they will be willing to do.

There is far more to this nationalism that Putin is using which we in the West have overlooked since 1990.

You saw it in his Duma speech and you keep hearing it being repeated by the Foreign Minister---the myth that NATO "promised" not to expand---it was countered by a security advisor to Kolh and the former German FM Genscher who both claimed (in an interview released tomorrow)it was never mentioned to the Russians in 1990 because no one at that time could have even comprehended the rapid breakup of the SU--effectively stated that this was a Russian myth that had taken on a life of it's own in their nationalism.

You bring up a very interesting point---even here in SWJ I have not really seen anything published on the topic of nationalism since 2007 when I started reading the articles.

It was part and parcel for political science students in the 60/70s but fell out of favor after 1990.

I actually have not seen anything even remotely written about nationalism from any of the major think tanks since say 1995.

Bill M.

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 3:51pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I'll add that nationalism can become an ideology of extremism that is often more dangerous than the ideology promoted by al-Qaeda based on the military power a state can employ. We saw this in WWII (state based terror SS, Japanese slaughter of millions of innocent civilians, etc.). While many think tanks focus on the growing power of non-state actors which is certainly important, they tend to have a blind spot for the re-emergence of nationalism and the risks it could pose to global security. Russia is one example, we also see it in China, Japan, and elsewhere.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 2:53pm

Bill M recently wrote about Russian nationalism that Putin is riding---more to that topic is as follows:

This goes to the current nationalism that is driving in some aspects Putin who is riding it and the US who has not spoken about nationalism for a long long time in our political discourse.

"I was born in the Soviet Union," wrote Udaltsov on his movement's website, "and it will always be my homeland. Those who destroyed it and their supporters today will always be my political opponents. The rebirth of the Soviet Union in new forms is necessary, crucial and urgent."

Komsomolskaya Pravda journalist Ulyana Skoibeda, whose claim to fame is the scandal last year when she regretted that the ancestors of today's Jewish opposition activists hadn't been killed by the Nazis, was ecstatic over the Crimean annexation.

"As I listened to Putin's speech about Crimea, I hugged my child close and said, 'Look, son. You will remember this for the rest of your life,'" Skoibeda wrote. "Entering a conflict with the whole world to defend your rights and interests — that is the U.S.S.R. And being willing to live in poverty — that is also the Soviet Union. So what if Russia has been kicked out of the Group of Eight? The Soviet Union always lived in isolation. My homeland is back."

A large swath of the Russian population shares Skoibeda's views. Almost everyone who supports using force against Ukraine sees it primarily as a path to resurrecting the Soviet Union. This may be explained by the fact that the majority of these people never lived in the U.S.S.R. and do not remember it. For them, it is just a mythical golden age of a great power that could provide stability to several generations of Russians.

The authors of this letter seem to want to go down the same road again.

In the last decade or so, we have tried their approach of:

a. Calling the regimes "bad" (because they don't want to be like us and don't want to work with us) and the populations "good" (because we believe they did want to be like us and did want to work with us).

b. Thereafter, the US working to undermine, overthrow and/or replace such uncooperative regimes.

Once these "oppressive" regimes were overthrown, however, what we hoped to achieve (states and societies effectively organized and oriented more along modern western ways) has not materialized.

Rather, what we got was Forrest Gump's box of chocolates ("You never know what you're gonna get!"). To wit: states and societies which might (1) descend into chaos and/or (2) adopt ways of life and ways of governance that were even more detrimental to US interests. (Would we want either of these things to happen with nuclear Russia?)

So: Badmouthing, undermining and overthrowing the regime came to be seen as a huge mistake.

Lesson learned:

a. One's instruments of power and persuasion can, indeed, be brought to bear against a single entity, such as a regime, and, via this approach and relationship, cause the outlying state and society -- at some point -- to come to work with us to accomplish our policy objective (the transformation of the state and society more along modern western lines).

b. On the other hand, one's instruments of power and persuasion cannot -- as cheaply, as easily and/or as reliably -- cause the diverse populations to (1) drop all of their selfish wants, needs and desires and (2) organize the state and society per our requirements.

c. These facts causing us to understand that the population, (1) because of its more-conflicted and unreliable nature, (2) because it lacks inherent governing experience and legitimacy and (3) because it lacks an organized and effective military, police and intelligence force to enforce change, is not the way to go.

Bottom line: As with Russia and Putin -- likewise with other "difficult" states and leaders today -- we have determined that we must find a way to work, primarily, by, with and through the regimes (rather than with the populations) to achieve our desired ends. The regimes, here, to be seen, and for the reasons indicated above, as the more viable option.

Move Forward

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 10:48pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

<blockquote>I think the issue is less that EU leaders think the US will continue to bear the burden than that EU leaders don't feel particularly threatened.</blockquote>They feel economically threatened now. However, that could evolve as other neighbor borders change. I read an article where the Adidas chairman was conciliatory to the Russians in a recent session because they have so much business there. German Thysennkrupp leadership was similarly non-combative and they have major factories near us in the south. Other German companies are threatened:…

The article also claims the U.K. has substantial interests at stake. Therefore, if the U.S. seeks to preclude continued loss of lands to aggression, it may need to initiate, at least initially, unilateral ground force deterrence actions.

<blockquote>I can't see how the US economy in its current state can support a significant increase in defense spending, nor do I see any reason why it should be asked to do so.</blockquote>Bill Clinton certainly never had huge defense budgets, yet he still maintained a 490,000 man active Army <strong>and</strong> used them in the Balkans. What changed? Two large wars against Islamic extremists, one of which was questionably necessary, while both required large movements of forces, equipment, and supplies to the ends of the earth.

The resultant true costs of fuel to get it there safely and fly jets around far surpassed what we would pay at the pump in East NATO nations, and many of those armored forces simply would be parked as prepositioned equipment. Leave the jets in Germany and Italy. Park Apaches in shelters later to be used by jets. We have allowed the cost of two wars in primitive conditions to distort our perception of ground force costs that were borne for 60+ years in occupying Germany and Korea.

<blockquote>You seem to be assuming (correct me if I'm wrong on that) that Putin's Russia will continue to seize territory until checked, and that it can only be checked by military force. Is that correct? If so, whats the basis for those assumptions?</blockquote>Because he can. We can't and won't stop him. NATO can't and won't stop him. A red line must start with some sort of line in the sand. That line does not need to turn red with blood. It does need to display more backbone rather than idle threats and accusations of Russian weakness as a weak regional power...with nukes that can obliterate the U.S. and an ego-sensitive KGB leader.

Funny thing is, I look at Saturday's local paper and see a story about how a local mayor met the 13th richest man from Hong Kong at the airport to encourage him to do business here. The man worth $3 billion said he was never met elsewhere on visits to potential business sites. This mayor knew the deal as he had multiple car dealerships of Japanese, German, and Korean brands. Now he is attracting the Chinese to build factories. Maybe we should stop looking at the Chinese as threats and start treating them like the potential partners they are and could be. How could Russia help our economy? Don't make me laugh. If we would simply expand homegrown sources of energy we easily could supply Europe with its energy needs. But this administration can't get that right either.


Sun, 03/30/2014 - 7:57pm

In reply to by Move Forward

I think the issue is less that EU leaders think the US will continue to bear the burden than that EU leaders don't feel particularly threatened. The left vs Tea Party dynamic in US politics is certainly depressing, but even aside from that I can't see how the US economy in its current state can support a significant increase in defense spending, nor do I see any reason why it should be asked to do so,

You seem to be assuming (correct me if I'm wrong on that) that Putin's Russia will continue to seize territory until checked, and that it can only be checked by military force. Is that correct? If so, whats the basis for those assumptions?

Move Forward

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 1:07pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

<blockquote>Below the surface of this popular myth, EU leaders retain false confidence in something else: the belief that America will continue to bear the burden — forever, if necessary, and alone, if necessary. And that’s a very dangerous delusion.

Because Putin and company see a different America.

Cognizant of Obama’s distaste for foreign entanglements and witnessing the rise of Republicans like Rand Paul, the agents of authoritarianism realize that Americans of all views are sick of unequal responsibility. Propelled by their own lust for power, they sense an opening in this vacuum.

Ukraine today; . . . tomorrow?</blockquote>

This quote comes from a National Review article listed in today's RealClearDefense:…

This makes the same points you articulate about European underspending on defense. If we recall, the Saudis and other countries paid for $52 out of the $61.1 billion cost of Desert Storm if Wikipedia citations are correct. A similar approach would make sense for NATO for the rather minor cost of distributing additional Army attack aviation, air and missile defenses, and a single pre-positioned U.S. armored BCT with 3 combined arms battalions (new organization) rotating half their forces every 6-9 months.

Spread these forces across four southern NATO countries along the Ukrainian border to create the requisite tripwire effect to <strong>deter</strong> invasion and potentially defend against it temporarily. A Stryker element in Germany and an Airborne BCT in Italy cannot accomplish that effect but can reinforce it until other Army and Marine forces arrive along with NATO back-up.

The problem in Europe is the same one in the U.S. insofar as neither the budgetary emphasis nor the will to act exists. Unfortunately, it appear additional territory will have to be taken by Putin before NATO starts to see the light and offers to fund U.S. presence in Europe to a greater degree. We are talking of costs little more than that of the Clinton-era 490,000 strong Army. The problem is as the linked article articulates, priorities are in a tug of war between the left's desire for more of a Welfare State and the right's (and Tea Party's) insistence that the richest amongst us be spared from additional taxes.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 11:40am

In reply to by Dayuhan

Agree completely but i have been addressing how dc power politics and policy shops have promoted these narratives and how they mislead the public. They block any attempts to do what u suggest. To counteract u have to address them.


Sun, 03/30/2014 - 2:24am

In reply to by Move Forward

Again it seems odd to me that so much of the discourse on this topic treats it as as US/Russian confrontation, as if Europe does not exist or has no capacity to provide for its own defense. Europe's GDP dwarfs that of Russia, and Europe has far greater economic leverage over Russia than the US. Combined EU defense spending is several times that of Russia, and with EU defense spending at only 1.7% of GDP they can clearly afford to spend more. In short, if Europe thinks the threat requires BCTs, they should consider fielding some. If they want the US to provide in the meantime, they should offer to pay for them, and they should use their economic leverage over Russia to its fullest extent. Yes, raising defense spending and imposing meaningful sanctions will impose some pain on Europe, but supplying defensive capacity would impose pain on the US... shouldn't those threatened be the ones to bear the pain of deterring a threat, especially since they have the capacity?

I fail to see any reason why a Russian threat to Europe should be cast as a confrontation between the US and Russia. Given that the state of the US economy is a far greater threat to US security than Russia or China, I also fail to see why the US taxpayer should come rushing to the defense of those who are so manifestly capable of providing for themselves.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/29/2014 - 1:50pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

<blockquote>Reagan had a genuine horror of nuclear weapons, and wanted them abolished. He called mutually assured destruction “the craziest thing I ever heard of.” His three military interventions — Grenada, Lebanon and Libya — were “limited operations of short duration,” and he carefully avoided direct confrontation with the Soviets.</blockquote>
This conveniently omits direct U.S. aid and other long-term support in the Reagan years to:
* Iraq in fighting the Iraq-Iran War from 1980-1988
* Insurgents in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 80s
* Israel in its invasion and continued occupation of Lebanon from 1982-85 as well as attacks against Syria. Withdrawal ultimately led to creation of Hezbollah. How has that worked out for the world?
* Central American governments and insurgents fighting communism
* Expansion and modernization of U.S. ground forces in Europe to include intermediate range ballistic missiles and nuclear cruise-missiles forcing new treaties
* Creation of a 600 ship Navy goal to battle Soviet threats far more dangerous than any currently involving Chinese or Iranian A2/AD

And lest we not forget, some of Reagan's "ringing speeches" included loudly expressed comments such as "evil empire" and "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

If President Reagan was circumspect in use of force, we should have no illusions on what would have happened to Iran if they had not freed our hostages. Whether he would have invaded Iraq to free Kuwait is unknowable but his more liberal vice-President certainly thought it was important.

Most importantly, President Reagan appeared to subscribe to the concept of "speak softly and carry a big stick." Unfortunately, the current administration and Congressional Republicans appear to have forgotten the lessons of the Cold War. Conventional strength and forward presence were the primary factors that precluded escalation to nuclear war. Why start a war with tripwires in place to make it painful for both sides?

Today, the Russians and their former KGB leader who misses the Soviet Union see no obstruction to blitzkrieg into nearly any non-NATO area they desire to retake. Even some NATO neighbors should feel frightened as the armored BCTs required to stop Russian armor are no longer in sight. Consider this bullet from the Open Letter that NATO and the U.S. must seriously consider:

<blockquote>Conduct an assessment on how to strengthen NATO’s deterrence posture vis-à-vis Russia, including the deployment of additional ground forces, missile defenses, or other assets to former Warsaw Pact members of NATO. Your deployment of U.S. fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltic States is an important first step in this regard.</blockquote>

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 03/29/2014 - 10:32am

This letter is very much in line with the criticism of Reagan by the neoconservatives:

<blockquote>Reagan had a genuine horror of nuclear weapons, and wanted them abolished. He called mutually assured destruction “the craziest thing I ever heard of.” His three military interventions — Grenada, Lebanon and Libya — were “limited operations of short duration,” and he carefully avoided direct confrontation with the Soviets.

This got Reagan into trouble with the neocons early on. They took to the oped pages to lament “The Muddle in Foreign Policy” (Irving Kristol) and chronicle the “Neoconservative Anguish over Reagan’s Foreign Policy” (Norman Podhoretz).

Incredibly, Podhoretz accused Reagan of “following a strategy of helping the Soviet Union stabilize its empire,” instead of “encouraging the breakdown of that empire from within.”

In Reagan’s Middle East policies, especially, there was much for hawks to rue, such as the administration’s sharp condemnation of Israel’s 1981 “preventive strike” on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, and Reagan’s decision to withdraw U.S. peacekeepers from Lebanon after a truck bomb killed more than 200 Marines.

In a 2007 debate, to the chagrin of Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, invoked Reagan to argue for getting out of the Middle East: “We need the courage of a Ronald Reagan.”

<strong>Despite Reagan’s “ringing speeches,” he was “quite circumscribed in his efforts at democracy promotion,” Colin Dueck writes in Hard Line, a new history of GOP foreign policy. Reagan viewed the U.S. as a city on a hill, a “model to other countries,” not a crusader state with “an obligation to forcibly promote democracy overseas.”</strong></blockquote> - Gene Healy, CATO Institute "Reagan Was No Neocon"

I encourage younger folk lurking--aw, I know you're around, students!-- to go back to newspaper articles and primary resources of the time and read some of the criticisms by the same class of intellectuals. Don't they seem remarkably similar to this one?

Venting and emotion is not strategy.

Many in the military--despite the need to be outside politics--view themselves as conservatives. And yet, on many milblogs, few seem interested in tracing intellectual histories and disagreements and how arguments developed. Curious.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/29/2014 - 1:47pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Thanks for your reference to Gene Sharp as I learned something from reading about him. Sounds like a pretty smart guy.

Why do you think the economies of every former Eastern Bloc nation are better today than under the Soviet Union? What would the world economy look like today had we not helped both Japan and Germany to rebuild to become our friends and major trading partners providing many jobs inside the U.S.? War sucks but like greed, it sometimes works.

Nobody will become a Master of Chaos. However, chaos expands within a vacuum that lacks red lines and realistic threats to its expansion.

As you admit, you lack a military background and cite experience in Boston and Palo Alto. I would argue that those two locations are incapable of providing you any real world insight into the military. You obviously read a lot about geopolitics, but your sources often appear to have the slant of academia which you freely admit to be a part of.

I would suggest that with one in every 68 children now being born with autism, the prevalence of infections being developed while hospitalized, the immunities being built to anti-biotics, and the out-of-control costs of medical care....your efforts to save the world could be better directed. The military budget is generally about 3% of GDP yet provides American jobs that cannot be exported and that often convert troubled youth into productive members of society.

When essential and to serve as a deterrent to larger war, a large military that is forward deployed or In contrast, it has become increasingly apparent that Obamacare and a medical sector constituting 1/6 (not 3%) of our economy is badly broken. Physician heal thyself. My daughter is trying to do her part not as a doctor in academia in big liberal cities with Ivy League intellectuals but in middle America in an Emergency Room. Even though she may not be as smart as you, I suspect she will solve more real world problems in that venue. Similarly, our common sense military will apply Realpolitik to keep us safe from world terrorists and thugs...if it has a credible size, forward positioning, and rapid credible employment potential.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 03/29/2014 - 10:22am

Outlaw is correct, the neoconservatives never did understand strategy. They hated Reagan for this very reason--look at their criticisms of him. This letter reads no differently. I wrote the following at War on the Rocks:

<blockquote>What American President–even during the height of the Cold War–would escalate over the Ukraine? Sometimes I think some people confuse the hot rhetoric of that time with the care with which people handled situations because of the presence of nuclear weapons.

What is optimal for Europe and its various factions–including the UK–and what is optimal for the US are not as closely aligned in this period as during the Cold War. All the bleating about “the West” fails to recognize this fact. No amount of so-called American leadership can change these facts on the ground.

The expansion of NATO now means that the US has a strategic defense perimeter in Europe that runs through some shifting, difficult, troubled regions. Given that Europe has a collective GDP that is huge, this is strategic malpractice from the American system.

<strong>From Reagan In His Own Hand, page 25:</strong>

“Reagan says that U.S. Foreign policy leaders have failed to appreciate that clearly delineated defense perimeters are central to international credibility and sound strategic doctrine, and they will help bring an end to communism. Much of Reagan’s analysis of crisis in the Third World is framed in terms of his concern for United State’s defense perimeters.”

This is not an exercise in What Would Reagan Do, but a point about the expansionary, shifting, uncertain, one day this/the next day that, attitude toward NATO by feckless leaders in the West. (And you can throw in whichever Russian leaders that you like, too).</blockquote>

No matter what you think Russia is today, from a misunderstood failing power, to a revanchist imperially minded nation, the drawing of unclear lines is strategically stupid. Especially between two nuclear powers.

This is the problem with the democracy promotion/spending millions to buy elections Gene Sharpified State Department line, Special Forces Gene Sharp alcolytes.

Don't fall in love yourselves as Masters of Chaos. Ain't no one a master of chaos. The second you think that, chaos already won.

I may not have the military background of people here but my time in Boston and Palo Alto--however brief--taught me a lot about the intellectual feeder class of Ivy league intellectuals. Them, you don't know so well.

I know them because once upon a time I wanted to be one.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 03/29/2014 - 10:18am

<blockquote><strong>Did Americans meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine? Yes. The American agents of influence would prefer different language to describe their activities -- democratic assistance, democracy promotion, civil society support, etc. -- but their work, however labeled, seeks to influence political change in Ukraine. </strong>The U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and a few other foundations sponsored certain U.S. organizations, including Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the Solidarity Center, the Eurasia Foundation, Internews and several others to provide small grants and technical assistance to Ukrainian civil society. The European Union, individual European countries and the Soros-funded International Renaissance Foundation did the same.


Did the U.S. government fund the Yushchenko campaign directly? Not to my knowledge. Both the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute conducted training programs for Ukrainian political parties, some of which later joined the Yushchenko coalition. But in the years leading up to the 2004 votes, American ambassadors in Ukraine insisted that no U.S. government money could be provided to any candidate. Private sources of external funding and expertise aided the Yushchenko campaign. Likewise, U.S. and Russian public relations consultants worked with the Yushchenko campaign, just as U.S. and Russian public relations people were brought in to help his opponent, Viktor Yanukovych. In future elections Ukrainian officials might enforce more controls on foreign resources. But this kind of private, for-profit campaign advice occurs everywhere now, and Americans no longer control the market.

Did American money bring about the Orange Revolution? Absolutely not. The combination of a weak, divided and corrupt ancien régime and a united, mobilized and highly motivated opposition produced Ukraine's democratic breakthrough. Westerners did not create or control the Ukrainian democratic movement but rather supported its cause on the margins. Moreover, democracy promotion groups do not have a recipe for revolution. If the domestic conditions aren't ripe, there will be no democratic breakthrough, no matter how crafted the technical assistance or how strategically invested the small grants. In fact, Western democracy promoters work in most developing democracies in the world, yet democratic transitions are rare.</blockquote>

- Michael McFaul, Washington Post, <strong>2004</strong>

Given the fact that so many retired Special Forces types have fallen for the Gene Sharp/USIP line, I'm not surprised that the crowd here missed the potentially negative second, third, and so-on, order effects of dumping millions of dollars into a foreign system and essentially attempting to mediate outcomes.

Thinking three or four steps down the line is not a strong suit with certain military intellectuals. Col. Petit was right in the article printed around here sometime ago--some people need to read more widely, including digging through policy papers of the intellectual class that is a permanent feature of Washington. I know we have civilian control of the military but you are still supposed to be educated beyond what you think you already know.

Bill C.

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 6:21pm

In reply to by acraw


As to preparing for war -- so as to achieve peace -- should we do this (prepare for war) from the standpoint of the authors of this letter; wherein, they suggest that we "distinguish between the corrupt regime surrounding Putin, and the Russian people who are the victims of his misrule."

Or should we prepare for war from the perspective that Putin, the regime as a whole and the Russian people -- as relates, for example, to matters such as those represented by the current Crimean dispute -- are one?

Having first watched President Obama's speech yesterday, and now having read this open letter to the President. I have to admit I'm feeling rather sad that the WH didn't seem to get the message.

What is the saying? "Si vis pacem, para bellum".

Here's a link to Neville Chamberlain's "Peace For Our Time" speech (the actual footage is on youtube and etc.)'s_%22Peace_For_…

It seemed clear to me, listening to the President's speech, something I very very rarely do, that a) his speech writers certainly know their Carl Sandburg and Martin Luther King; b) his speech writers don't know very much about European history. Poets and Civil Rights Leaders can certainly be Great men within the context of their own eras and struggles and subjects, but neither spring to mind when considering the practical business of crafting effective, successful National Policy.

Putin, on the other hand, has obviously read his Tolstoy.

"At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man's power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second."

LEO TOLSTOY, War and Peace

Say what one will of Putin, he's been running rings around this Administration, and being a KGB Colonel at heart, must be enjoying himself immensely whilst doing so.

A. Scott Crawford


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 8:48pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


Why can't we move missiles, move F-22s and plan for the longer term at the same time? The first two will give pause to Ivan and that is what we want. We want to slow him down and get him to thinking how to react to something we have done. That gives us time and there is nothing more useful than time. That time will be invaluable in figuring things for the long term.

I am not so sure that getting ATGMs and MANPADs into Ukraine will be less time consuming that getting some airplanes to, say, Polish airbases in the east of that country. Setting up a supply line may be even more time consuming that moving the airplanes and the people to operate them. Remember, on August 7, 1990, five days after Saddam invaded Kuwait, USAF F-15s made it to Saudi Arabia.


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 7:05pm

In reply to by carl

Because one can be implemented quicker than the other. Assuming the Ukrainians wanted them and there were no obvious objections from our allies in Europe, it is easy to get Ukraine the defensive weapons they need that their prior leadership failed to provide them. Russia could have no complaint since they are, by their very nature, short range defensive weapons. Of course they will, but since they are not offensive, the case is hard to make that these weapons threaten Russia or Russia speaking citizens in the Ukraine (unless they are driving armor vehicles or flying jet fighters.) That is relatively easy. Major muscle moves like deploying Air Wings takes time. That should be part of a larger scheme.


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 8:39pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


You still gotta take a first step whether you are doing a marathon or a 50 yd dash. Moving a fighter wing is a first step. It will not get us where we need to be. But we can't get there unless that first step is taken.

We gotta actually do something. MREs and supercilious lectures from our chief executive to a KGB killer aren't doing something.


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 7:08pm

In reply to by carl

I have said it before, I will say it again (with one correction). This is a walk, not a sprint. This is a chess match with a very cunning and capable opponent. We have lost the first two opening gambits. We need to start moving our pieces in order to create the conditions to win. We are not there now, and moving a fighter wing all by itself, with nothing else, is not going to get us where we need to be.


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 5:31pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


Why can't we do both at the same time? Right now he is making moves that we have to react to. That can't be helped. If the boat has a hole in it you gotta patch the hole before you can steer a new course and you can't put off doing damage control until after the captain and crew have a confab about what the best liberty port to make for is. You do that and there ain't no boat. Right now we gotta patch the hole. No reason we can't talk about where to sail the boat while we're saving it.


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 5:08pm

In reply to by carl

Carl, I agree with you proposals for aircraft. I like the light missile idea even better. But I would like to see it as part of a comprehensive plan on how to contain Russian ambitions. Right now everyone is talking knee-jerk reactions to Putin’s moves. We are placing him in the drivers’' seat, setting the conditions. I want to have a strategic, long term plan to deal with him including countermeasures against any damage he could cause to Europe either by cutting off natural gas or any other economic activity (even though economics is not a GRU members strong suit). This plan needs to be "endorsed" by our NATO allies, since they are going to recieve the brunt of Putin's frustration at being caged.

I assume this is happening now (and maybe even some of those MANPADS and ATGMs are making their way into the country in crates marked "MRE" ... one can always hope.) But we need to take the momentum away from Putin. We can't do that without a complete, well thought out plan.


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 4:25pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Blll C:

I don't give a fig about whether the Russians want to be like us or not like us because as a practical matter in this situation it is completely meaningless. And I also couldn't care less whether the Russians will be with us or against us. That the kind of thing that gets discussed with great passion in student lounges. The question is what are we going to do about a Putin and siloviki led Russia's aggression and threats against neighboring countries? So far we've sent Velveeta and M&Ms. That ain't gonna cut it.

You want to get the attention of aggressors the confidence to the those in their sights, send F-22s, EF-18s to Poland or even Kiev, and shiploads of ATGMs and MANPADs to every town hall in the Ukraine.

Bill C.

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 1:56pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III


Whether we are doing foreign policy generally -- or that portion of foreign policy known as war -- we need to, at the very least, be able to understand whether the "other" populations, re: our foreign policy/war goals and objectives, are likely to be with us or against us.

The authors of this letter seem to be saying that the populations of Russia, re: our foreign policy/war goals and objectives (the transformation of states and societies more along modern western lines) will be with us.

These authors have been terribly wrong in the recent past and it appears that they may be terribly wrong again here.

How important is the knowledge of whether the population is likely to be with us or against us?

Such information will, in large part, determine (1) how we conduct our foreign policy, (2) whether we go to war and, if we do go to war (3) in what manner we go to war.

As we have recently learned, if we conduct our foreign policy -- and go to war -- based on an incorrect premise (these folks want to be like us) then things can go terribly wrong.

And we get:

a. Instead of victory (states and societies transformed more along modern western lines),

b. Defeat (states and societies that descend into chaos, or that adopt ways of life and ways of governance even more detrimental to US interests). Would we want to see this happen with Russia?

Carl seems to contend that our primary problem is not in "reading" the populations but, instead, in properly executing war.

My contention is that our primary problem is not in executing war but, rather, in correctly reading the populations. Such information being vital to the planning and execution of -- not only foreign policy generally -- but also that portion of foreign policy known as war.

Thus, in order in to properly plan and execute foreign policy -- and/or war -- we must, first and foremost I contend (at the front end rather that at the tail end of things), determine whether the "other" populations are, in fact, likely to be with us or against us; specifically as this relates to our overriding foreign policy/war goals and objectives (for example: the transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western lines).

Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 12:52am

In reply to by Bill C.

First we are not yet going to war. Nevertheless, a strong response now to the Putinista may preclude a larger, far more serious conflict later. Current actions smack of appeasement because President Obama and the Europeans have punted Crimea to Russia under odious circumstances and yet do very little clearly to resist -- or even prepare to resist -- a foreseeable incursion into more of the East of Ukraine. People may differ from country to country, as you assert, but recoiling from aggression evokes predictably similar responses from allegedly different people.

Bill C.

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 11:52pm

In reply to by carl

If we go to war on the wrong premise (most everyone wants to be like us), can -- and should -- how we conduct such ill-advised wars save us from this gross mistake?

Or is it too much to ask -- of our nation, our people and their military -- that they routinely succeed at grossly ill-advised wars of choice?

One could, I guess, cause one's nation, one's population and their military to become adept at prosecuting grossly ill-advised wars.

But is not the proper course of action to cause one's national leaders to (1) understand their mistakes (not everyone wants to be like us) (2) admit these mistakes, (3) take corrective action and (4) determine not to make these same mistakes again?

This allowing that our nation, our people and their military will not have to become adept at prosecuting grossly ill-advised wars.

(The terms "most everyone" and "not everyone" used here as per your logic.)


Wed, 03/26/2014 - 12:51pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C:

Does everyone want to be like us? I don't know, judging by the number who want to move here a lot do. But that is not the question. In this case the question is do the Ukrainians want to be forced to be like the Russians? Or do they want to be what Vlad the Would Be Great wants them to be? The answer is probably no. That is the same question in Afghanistan, do they want to be what Taliban & Co and the Pak Army/ISI want them to be? Some do. Most don't, which is why the have had to kill many many Afghans over the years in their attempt to get back into the saddle.

Your whole line of reasoning is silly. First off it assumes that whatever group you choose to designate is homogenous and are the same in their behavior. That might apply, sort of, to horse breeds but it doesn't to people. Second it denies human nature and it's verities, things that apply to all of us. Things like desire for physical security, food to eat, some level of respect, love of children, some level of predictability in life; and the bad things too, the desire of some to steal, to lord it over others, to destroy etc.

The line of reasoning you adopt is popular but to me it is just another excuse for our idiot execution. It is along the lines of "We can't be blamed for not conducting small wars properly because they are just not like us.", rather than facing up to the fact that we just don't do war very well.

Bill C.

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 12:41pm

Two, shall we say, generalizations re: the Russian people (and, indeed, people everywhere):

a. From the authors of this open letter:

"In this effort, we must distinguish between the corrupt regime surrounding Putin, and the Russian people who are the victims of his misrule."

This statement embraces, it would seem, the idea of "universal values" and suggests (as our Curmudgeon points out) that "everybody wants to be like us."

b. From our Curmudgeon:

"Russians are an ethnic groups who are going through a revival of communal values and a nostalgia for their superpower past. To imagine that they are somehow repressed by Putin, that Putin is not, instead, exactly who they want in charge, is to misread the situation."

This statement suggests that the Russian people -- much like many other people around the world -- are not motivated by so-called "universal values" but, instead, wish to be more like themselves.

We might say that on 9/11 we received a message that supports the Curmudgeon's position, to wit: that many people do not want to be like us and, instead, wish to be more like themselves.

One would think that ten years of inconclusive war would also tell us that many people have no desire to be like us.

In order to see that the Russian people want to be more like themselves, must Putin take even more aggressive and decisive action?

It was largely based on this erroneous idea of "universal values" that we recently undertook missions to liberate populations from their oppressive regimes and, thereafter, transform these populations along modern western lines.

It is my understanding -- based on how these mission have turned out (bad: too expensive; counterproductive results)-- that we have now abandoned this idea.

Herein, and in acknowledgement that we now understand that people, everywhere, wish to be more like themselves, we now have decided to work -- not with the populations but, once again, with the oppressive regimes -- to achieve our desired ends (states and societies transformed more along modern western lines.)

What further evidence must we have to understand that the idea of "universal values" (and the corresponding concept of working by, with and through the populations) is/are dead?

Outlaw 09

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 10:17am

Wonder what the neocons would say to this article from FP today.

The Russian Divisions are still sitting there fully manned, fully armed and with sufficient supplies for a true run to Moldavia all the while Russia states they are on an exercise and are no threat.

BUT the exercise has been ongoing for two weeks which is a tad long to be in theory running a CPX which was the PR they released.

Until now they have not indicated that the CPX is over and the troops headed back to their barracks.

During the Cold War days we always anticipated an invasion coming out of a large scale field exercise just as this one is.

Putin also claimed one week before troops entered Crimea he had no interest in the Crimea so do the neocons really trust what is coming out of the Kremlin?…

Ned McDonnell III

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 11:45pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Hahaha. I think these are opponents of President Obama trying to call him out for doing nothing. I thought Texas had the right to secede as a point of annexation of the Texas Republic. Perhaps that was true until the Civil War and the secession of Texas somehow negated that right (though in a Supreme Court Case 'White vs Texas', Salmon Chase argued that no state ever seceded and that their secession was never recognized, perhaps arguing that the Confederate states had been in both the Union and a state of rebellion).

Ned McDonnell III

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 11:56pm

As always, an interesting letter followed by more interesting comments. The evident care with which this letter is worded, together with back-and-forth in the comments, indicate the anxiety clearly felt that miscalculation could have dire consequences. No one wants a war with Russia. As with any complicated situation like this one, "all of the above" is a great starting point for understanding what is driving Russia's aggression. My personal preference is that there are three prime motivators.

First, President Putin feels he must take the focus off of the problems in his house and focus the 'fervor' elsewhere. In this respect, I felt, as a college student in early 1980, that one reason why the U.S.S.R. had invaded Afghanistan was to send a message to the large Muslim minority not to take their cue from radical shi'ite and sunni Muslims creating havoc in Teheran, Islamabad and Mecca. The Putinistas are not only distracting the captive populace from the sorry state of Russia under their man's leadership but also letting the pro-euro activists know that they will be crushed if they step out of line (by saying in effect, "Hey, if I am willing to take this public flak over Ukraine for its uppitiness, imagine what I will do to you away from international accountability...").

Second, the regime is pursuing this aggression because it wants to. The Russian mob may be mobsters and the oligarchs may be pillagers but I doubt that the Putineer is alone in "going bed dreaming of Peter the Great and waking up thinking like Stalin..."

Third, Russia believes it can get away with it. That is obvious; people know why I think this unhappy state of affairs has unfolded. Yet this 'why' is open to the lively debate already taking place on web-sites like this one, over dinner tables and in hallowed halls.

Here's the catch: all of the proposed costs -- whether on elites or on an innocent population -- are too far in the future. The 'now' doesn't give a damn about six months from now. Even this letter from these muckety-mucks, with its reference to ramping up support for Georgia in September 2014, is (in view of a day-by-day time horizon) irrelevant to the 'now'.

If the U.S. and the West are serious about preventing further land-grabs and a re-play of 1938, the United States will have to do something now (together with Germany and Britain), lest a possible perception of dithering be interpreted as a window of opportunity to take parts of Georgia and Moldova while the "gettin' is good".

Yet that concern of timing then begs the fear expressed that regions of 0.5 to 2.5 million people could drag the world into war as great powers are snared in a web of alliances too brittle for everybody's good. One President, like him or no, who really understood this double-edged sword of Damocles -- with one side of the blade being appeasement and the other miscalculation -- was President Kennedy. That is to say, there is a middle course:

> at the invitation of Ukraine, enforce an imperfect aerial blockade over Eastern Ukraine outside of the Crimea, particularly Odessa and other key cities;
> bring the carrier fleet engineering that overflight into the Black Sea, with Turkey's consent, to maintain a 'patrol zone' of fifty miles off of Sevastopol; as well as,
> sponsor special forces exercises immediately in Kiev and elsewhere in Western Ukraine (for any type of practice; does not matter).

The no-fly-zone and naval quarantine will not be comprehensive; we need, rather, to focus on presence rather than perfection. It does revert to one Cold War idea: the trip wire. Now these ideas of mine may need major re-doing to enable what is possible and plausible. One gets the general idea. It re-sets the context of pushing back on Russia without firing a shot. With that breathing room established for all parties, the international community can act to resolve outstanding issues in the Crimea, Transniestra and South Ossetia.

There are legitimate historical questions underlying the claims over these disputed areas. A referendum would make sense in each case, if there were a compelling sentiment in the region in a less contentious time, expressing its desire through a petition to some international body to be validated, followed by a referendum monitored for authenticity.

The situation in Crimea reminds me an awful lot of the Falklands hassle of 1982. I was out of college an interning for a non-standing Senate policy committee. One morning, the gracious foreign policy expert gave me a pile of C.R.S. reports and others texts. She asked me to come up with an idea of why the Chairman should support Great Britain -- by lunch.

Going in, I was all in favor of Great Britain. Over the next two hours, as I read through material, I came to be sympathetic with the historical claim of the Argentines. Yet, it was obvious that the invasion was occurring because of the impending collapse the repudiated regime of a militaristic dictator (hmmm...familiar?) in Buenos Aires trying to buy time, through reclaiming 'the Malvinas', perhaps to 'disappear' the opposition leaders. Who knows?

We do not know because Great Britain was willing to risk an all-out war with Argentina to maintain her hold on those islands. The Malvinas indeed should revert to Argentina. Some day they will, but in a manner consistent with cross-border comity within a community of nations willing to abide by an international rule of law. I submit to you that the disparity of power between the U.K. and Argentina in 1982 may be analogous to that of the U.S. over Russia today.

P.S. I have heard or read that roughly 41% of Crimeans favoured secession a year or two ago (i.e., a less contentious time) -- about the level of Quebecois who have historically wanted to secede from Canada; not an overwhelming mandate. Gee, what would happen if France grabbed Quebec? How long would that last? As long as the Falklands were officially re-christened as the Malvinas. Why is this situation in Ukraine significantly different? Four letters: F-E-A-R.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 8:32am

What we currently have with Russia and the Crimea goes further back than just the Empire and we have I would say since about the late 1980s not talked about something we in international relations use to call "nationalism".

Whole books were written on the subject and hundreds of university/college classes were held on the topic from the 50s through to the early 80s.

"Nationalism" is a strange word and it is not often heard in our intellectual exchanges since the Wall came down--wonder why?

In order to understand currently Putin and his motives one must understand the depth of the belief in the current propaganda/disinformation that is originating from the Russian State/Russian oligarch owned mass media that is flooding over the Russian population 24/7.

Nationalism is an easy thing to turn on but extremely difficult to turn off.

Wikipedia: Russian nationalism is the nationalism that asserts that Russians are a nation and promotes the cultural unity of Russians. Russian nationalism has its roots in the 18th century. It was closely related to Pan-Slavism. There are a number of individuals and organizations in Russia today, consisting of both moderate and radical nationalists.

If one read the exchanges between NATO's Rasmussen and the Russian Ambassador in the OCSE Friday ---the Russian myth and it is a myth of NATO expansion was shot down because in the OCSE documents Russia signed in 1999 it contains a single sentence "allowing" all members of the OCSE to select the block or organization freely they wanted to join ie NATO/EU and yes even rejoin Russia.

So the constant bitching about NATO is just a smoke screen for something else---namely nationalism. By the way Russia, Ukraine, K'stan and Belarus all signed the 1999 OCSE agreements which the Ambassador was reminded of and he agreed that Russia has signed the agreement.

So is “wag the dog” a valid explanation of the Crimea and any future tactics that Putin uses in the reestablishing the old Soviet Union?

This article---excerpts below--- is extremely interesting to read as it goes to the heart of Russian “nationalism”.

Consider this widely shared Facebook post by a Moscow yuppie named Artem Nekrasov: “If Putin manages to annex Crimea and the southeast of Ukraine peacefully I personally forgive him everything: wild corruption, the lawlessness of officials, lack of any prospects in the economy, disorder in education and journalism and even the common stupefaction of the people....” The post is popular because, as polls show, it reflects the common mood in Russia. Putin’s approval rating is 75 percent since he announced the annexation of Crimea.

Roman Kokorev, a senior researcher in the International Law Department of the Russian Federation government, goes still further. “The next step is Moldova and all Ukraine!!!” he writes on Facebook. He wants all the old territories of the Soviet Union back; he wants Russian military power, once again, to reign supreme. He wants the Baltics and Finland and Poland and “Alaska will be returned,” he writes, “because all these lands are Russian.” (Sarah Palin, watch out.)

As journalist and political scientist Alexander Morozov writes in his widely-read essay “Conservative Revolution: Making Sense of Crimea,” Putin’s logic is no longer tied to those rational considerations of cooperation and economic interdependence on which the West puts so much faith. His is now a “revolutionary” mindset in which he and his followers are ready to sacrifice Western capital, risk having their assets frozen, and rely on “political myth”—a focus on heroism, sacrifice and martyrdom—to generate public support. There is no rational response to this. Those infected by the myth cannot imagine any other possibility for the future but success: “Crimea is ours!”


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 4:43pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


Much of the repression suffered by black people in the South was de jure. It was the result of black codes and Jim Crow legislation that went back to just after the Civil War. During those times it would have been accurate to say the majority of the white population in the South would have embraced segregation, I don't think it at all accurate to say that in the 1950s and 1960s. Things changed over a 100 year period. If they hadn't, if the white population had been as it was in 1870, there would not have been the change their was. What happened at that time was only the culmination of things that had been going on for a very long time.

Please, spare me the bleating about how I compared you to the Nazis. I compared the nature of some of your beliefs to those held by the Nazis.

It is obvious that different cultures make for different behaviors. It is also obvious that those differences should be understood. What should also be understood is the differences that exist within certain polities and within cultures. Those need to be studied and understood so they can be taken advantage of. It is much easier to say they are all alike but it is more effective to see there are some that are different so you can use that.


Mon, 03/31/2014 - 4:52pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M:

The point of the story about the woman who grew up East German was to highlight the repressive power, the ability to inspire terror wielded by a police state. It was not overstating the case at all. In fact it was understating it since the story was about the late 80s, early 90s, not about the 20s, 30s, or 40s and 50s in east Europe.

Now if you want to believe that Putin is popular and faces little political opposition because he is just such a nice guy, you go right ahead. I think it a huge mistake to discount the power of his police state to repress opposition and to ignore that opposition as a vulnerable point that can be exploited.