“Tactically Engaged, Strategically Adrift”
G. Murphy Donovan
Presumption comes before the fall in sport and war. Trash talking never won a real fight in the real world. Adult leadership always matters.
Success in sports, business, statecraft, and war is a function of quiet confidence. Gloating motivates the competition. An overestimate is a no-lose hedge. An underestimate is a fatal flaw. And if you’re in it to spin it, you are probably not going to win it.
At the moment, team America is losing five hot wars and one cold war, all in slow motion. Throughout, real and imaginary national security threats are obscured by political twerking.
Somehow, this ground truth is lost on the virtual generation of politicians, diplomats, and generals. Indeed, if you follow the national security monologue today, you would be led to believe that spin, propaganda, public relations, and bombast are substitutes for actual success.
Resume and juvenile twerking seem to be the new measures of accomplishment for national security professionals.
America might be bleeding, yet generals, for example, wear so much fruit salad camouflage that no one notices the hemorrhaging. Indeed, ignoring deficits and defeat is now a DOD meme. The Pentagon is a bull pen for oft promoted and often decorated underachievers.
Contemporary operational art, if it can be called that, is to do just enough to keep Muslim small wars going but never enough to win.
The only true victors in the matrix of military mediocracy seem to be Beltway bandits and the chaps who make and sell gadgets, bombs, and bullets to DOD. Dwight Eisenhower is probably spinning in his grave today. Hot “long wars” and long cold wars are good news for the military/industrial complex. Not so much for the taxpayer or true security.
Few, at this point, can argue that Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen are better off after American meddling. Let’s review the bidding.
The Clinton era campaign to dismantle Yugoslavia is still playing out. Civil war in the Balkans began with agitation in Muslim Kosovo which quickly escalated to other Yugoslav provinces. Pushback from Christian Serbs degenerated into a sectarian blood bath. The EU and America sided with Muslim factions, bombed Serbia into a cease fire, and the rest is history. EU and NATO helped to create two radical Islamic sanctuaries in the heart of Europe, ignoring the toxic record of Muslim fascism in Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina.
When an objective history of 20th Century Balkans is written, Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina will not be in the win column.
It’s probably no accident that the EU sought to dismember a former Soviet client state whilst the USSR itself was racked by political revolution. NATO and the EU filled the Warsaw Pact vacuum by pulling former Moscow satellites into the Brussels orbit. Absent the Warsaw Pact buffer, Russia found itself with both the EU and NATO as hostile neighbors.
The Cold War with the Soviet Union, and now Russia, was never far removed from the turmoil in the Balkans. Say what you will about Vladimir Putin, but he has stabilized Rodina within. His pushback in Georgia and Ukraine is understandable too from a Russian security perspective. Surely, no rational Kremlin leader could let the naval and nuclear weapons at Sevastopol fall into the hands of neo-Nazi crazies in Kiev.
NATO/ EU expansion eastward exploited a nation in transition, indeed, Russia under a hapless drunk. Putin is neither. Everything that the Putin regime has done since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been reactive. The Russian border from the Baltics to Georgia is being militarized by an imperial EU/NATO, not Russia in search of another empire.
Putin’s celebrated aphorism captures the modus vivendi: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.” Unfortunately, Washington and Brussels demagogues don’t seem to think that Moscow has any legitimate security interests anymore, even on homeland borders.
These days, it’s probably not difficult for the average Russian to believe that the Kremlin is the ultimate regime change target for Brussels and Washington.
Afghanistan began as another proxy war with the Soviets; an early clandestine success that morphed into a nasty guerilla war with the locals. The Kremlin was prudent enough to cut its losses in 1989. When the Russians departed, the Americans stepped in for a quarter century of humiliations. The Taliban (nee Mujahedeen ) now have a secure theocratic narco-state in most of the countryside. Sovereign Afghanistan barely exists outside of Kabul.
The Afghan War used to be known as the “war of necessity’ when bin Laden was alive. The 9/11 mastermind is dead now for five years, but al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS still flourish and one of the three is likely to eventually seize Afghanistan.
When Afghanistan succumbs, whither nuclear Pakistan?
At the beginning of the Obama administration, Iraq was known as the “war of choice,” implying that America didn’t need to be there. After the initial Schwarzkopf blitz of 2003, America is still in Iraq, albeit with fewer allies. Indeed, America, a “coalition of one,” is currently fighting its third Iraq war in 13 years. Iraq is now the DOD poster child for battle fatigue and mission creep. No end in sight for either.
Having reversed the sectarian poles, Sunni to Shia, and cashiered Saddam Hussein’s army; America now finds itself as a proxy ally to Shia Iran, mired in a ground war with a growing Sunni Islamic State.
Former Bath Party soldiers fight for the Levant jihad. After rearming Shia Iran by “deal”, America now sides with a Persian client state that one day may be the Shia counterpart of Sunni ISIS. Yes, Iraq and Iran used to be irreconcilable enemies. Naive American policy blunders gifted Baghdad to the ayatollahs.
The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq provided an opportunity for the kind of executive twerking that minimizes Muslim imperialism to this day. Team Obama mocked ISIS as the “junior varsity.” What the president failed to say was more telling.
Presumably, the Muslim “varsity” is the larger global jihad. According to intelligence estimates, ISIS alone now has a presence in 40 states and attracts recruits from 90 countries, including America. And ISIS is just one of dozens of global jihadist armies, Sunni and Shia, with similar religious/political agendas. Islamist foot soldiers are supported directly or indirectly by both Arabs and Persians.
The blowback from three American campaigns in Iraq is now threefold: ISIS, a Shite Iraq, and a new vassal state for Iran.
The quagmire in Baghdad is starting to make ten years in Saigon look like money well spent.
Hard as it is to imagine, Syria is a bigger mess than Iraq, although it’s difficult to believe that either state will survive in its present configuration. Syria is the exemplar of “humanitarian” folly, although Libya might be a close second.
The Syrian campaign began as another anti- regime fiasco, underwritten by the simplistic belief that democracy is the default setting for failed Muslim states. Sovereign failure and collapse, alas, is engineered by sponsored assassinations, coups, civil wars, or “humanitarian” interventions.
The decades old campaign to unseat Bashir Assad has now degenerated into another proxy war with the Kremlin. In this case, Moscow has the moral high ground. Unlike American, the Russian intervention in Syria is at the request of the host. The Kremlin is actually defending, not destroying, Syrian sovereignty.
Indeed, the Russian Air Force, Kurd, and Persian militias seem to be winning in the north. If Aleppo falls, Russia and Iran will have scored a major victory over the Sunni jihad in Syria. If and when the Russian led coalition drives ISIS back into Turkey, expect John Kerry and Ash Carter to be the first to take a bow.
The valiant Kurds, unfortunately, are unlikely to benefit from any al Nusra/ISIS defeat in Syria.
The Kurds are the largest, if not only, demographic of genuine Muslim “moderates” in the world. Caught between duplicitous Turks and feckless Americans, the Kurdish quest for a national sovereignty is likely to be kicked to the curb by a US defense establishment that prefers to pander to Ottoman theocrats in Ankara.
The Kurd quandary is just a facet of the larger dilemma that dogs US foreign/military policy in the Ummah. Few if any Arab, Persian, or Muslim factions trust the White House or the Pentagon after decades of spastic policy.
Libya is another tragic case of regime change folly embellished with callous adolescent taunts. Once the most affluent nation in North Africa, Libya is now reduced to barbaric free fall and religious civil war. The ISIS “junior varsity” has more than a toehold in yet another failed Muslim state with oil wealth. Mission creep proceeds apace in North Africa too. US air strikes have begun in Libya - again.
With Libya, gloating reaches new juvenile lows. Mrs. Clinton twerked: “We came, we saw, he died,” after the sponsored Gadhafi kill. Clearly, the US State Department was driving the Libya putsch.
Mrs. Clinton was cackling an artless replay of Julius Ceasar’s cryptic report (47 BC) to the Roman senate: “Veni, vidi, vinci; I came, I saw, I conquered. The very phrase has come to mean quick, successful victory. The American sponsored implosion in Libya is neither.
Subsequent to the Libyan collapse, which included the assassination of the US ambassador, the then Secretary of State concluded: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Assessing the post-Gadhafi meltdown in North Africa; President Obama trash-talked the misadventure as North African “tribalism;” indeed calling erstwhile prosperous Libya, another “shit show.”
Vulgarity is often the lingua franca for national security amateurs, as when State Department official Victoria Nuland chortled “fuck NATO” because some Europeans failed to endorse the US sponsored coup in Ukraine fast enough.
The war in Yemen is another proxy fight, Saudi Arabia against Iran, Persian against Arab, and Sunni against Shia. In this case, America and England side with the Sunni. The wealthiest Muslim nation in Africa is trying to bomb the poorest Muslim nation back to the Stone Age.
Unaided, it would be impossible for the corrupt Emirates or a theocratic Saudi Arabia to fight their way out of a harem. The Saudi free-fire zone in Yemen is impossible without British and American weapons and munitions. Any moral argument about “indiscriminate” Russian bombing in Syria is undermined by the Saudi/American/British aerial blitz in Yemen.
A casual observer would be hard pressed not to see the Yemen and Mosul, Iraq fronts as distractions, if not diversions, from humiliations in Syria and Libya. Lame ducks, seeking legacy, often morph into black swans.
As we speak, the American navy is exchanging missiles with Shia gunners in Yemen. American and Iranian flotillas are doing a martial pas de deux at Bab al Mandeb, a maritime standoff that could go hot with a single stray round.
Cold War with Russia
Just as the Shia/Sunni rift underwrites much of the mayhem in Muslim small wars, civil and sectarian; the proxy war between America and Russia compounds Ummah instability. Kremlin bashing now seems to be a staple for both American political parties.
Anti-Putin Twerking with Pussy Riot
Much Russophobia is also a diversion too - or whistling in the dark. Picking a fight with Moscow, whilst Muslim small wars abide, is just twitch short of strategic insanity. Making matters worse, the trash talkers now accuse the Kremlin of meddling in American elections.
If the Russian FSB is capable of tampering with American elections, then the problem is the FBI and the National Security Agency, not Vladimir Putin. Russian and American Intelligence operatives do pretty much the same things, all of which are probably illegal somewhere. The difference between the two is that the Kremlin doesn’t seem to confuse effective tradecraft with adolescent loose talk.
If there’s a legitimate threat to the integrity of American elections from Intelligence operatives, the immediate danger comes from partisan American, not Russian, officials. Michael Morrel, former deputy at CIA, and Michael Hayden, former director at NSA, take a bow here.
And if America is as weak and vulnerable as officials like Morrel and DNI Jim Clapper claim; what does that say about the 17 plus Intelligence agencies and the myriad of DOD agencies that are supposed to provide security? The problem with national defense may be the same as the problem with domestic social programs. Spending has been divorced from results - and solutions.
The only defense thread with a plus vector is funding, especially in the “wilderness of mirrors,” the Intelligence Community. National security today, for both political parties, is more business than security.
The more America spends on Intelligence, the less the White House seems to know about threats. Bigger Intelligence has never been better, especially if the need is objective analysis. The best technical Intelligence collection in the world is now undone by cooked books and asserted conclusions, especially specious analysis about Russia or Islam.
Much of the associated political twerking is a toxic remix mandated by Beltway thought police. The worst invective is now reserved for “Russians,” when we actually mean the Putin administration. No such ethnic or national bias is permissible for Arabs, Persians, or Muslims where the preferred terms for culprits are undifferentiated euphemisms such as “criminals, radicals, or extremists”.
Or to borrow a gem from DNI James Clapper, Muslim shock troops and terrorists are called “nefarious characters.” If you listen to the Orwellian verbiage approved by fiat for America’s Muslim wars, you might believe that race, country of origin, and political theology had nothing to do with the ongoing Muslim jihad or the larger “clash of civilizations.”
The Russian Shibboleth
The specter of the Russian bear haunts those many inconclusive Muslim wars. From Afghanistan in 1978 to Syria today, the perception of the Kremlin as a manipulator of dark forces continues to haunt the American foreign/military policy establishment. It’s as if all the baggage of the Comintern , the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and the Cold War were still with us.
Blatant contradictions abound. American foreign policy assumes that Putin’s Russia is Stalin’s Soviet Union. With Islam, a political culture little altered in 1400 years, we assume democracy follows autocracy. In fact, theocracy is the default setting for a metastasizing Ummah. And Russians, since Yeltsin, are models of enlightenment and democracy when compared to recidivist Persians, Arabs, and Turks.
After the Ayatollah’s revolution in 1979, the vector of Shia and Sunni culture is a race to the barbaric bottom, or the 7th Century, whichever comes first.
Russophobia in the West is now aggravated by Pentagon generals with political agendas. NATO and CJCS brass provide two recent examples.
Former NATO Supreme Allied commander, Philip Breedlove, USAF, was exposed, thru hacked emails, beating the drums for confrontation with Russia. At the JCS, Army Chief of Staff, Mark Milley engaged in similar chest thumping, claiming that Russia was “an existential threat,” a menace that the US Army would “destroy.”
Breedlove and Milley should be careful about what they wish for. Some sense of history might help. The Soviet’s did most of the fighting and took most of the casualties in the last European war. Today, Russians are no longer dependent on the largesse of Lend-Lease. And the Kremlin still has the home field advantage.
Russia isn’t Panama and the Russian Army isn’t anybody’s “junior varsity.” A cynic might conclude that the Kremlin shibboleth is not as critical to US national security as it is for DOD budgets and federal spending.
Efforts to separate Russia from Europe are not in the best interests of Europe or America in any future. Playing a highly personalized version of nuclear “chicken” with Vladimir Putin is not much of a game plan either.
Russians were an indispensable ally for the defeat of 20th Century secular fascism in WWII. Russia may have to play a similar role if 21st Century Islamofascism is ever to be beaten. Unfortunately, the kind of spin and twerking that characterizes State Department rhetoric has migrated to the Department of Defense.
Alas, trash talk and adolescent posturing doesn’t win cold or hot wars. American politicians and generals who can’t acknowledge failure are unlikely to recognize success in any case.
Martial malarkey is especially ironic because DOD is clearly subordinate to the cookie pushers at Foggy Bottom these days. Recall that the former CJCS, another Army general, Martin Dempsey, testified that he didn’t send help to Benghazi because Hillary Clinton at the State Department didn’t ask him for help.
Girls and gays with guns in the ranks is one thing. Girly men on the E Ring is another problem altogether. The mufti militia at the Pentagon needs to think long and hard about getting back to what real warriors do best.
What Is To Be Done?
Stand Up or Stand Down
The bell weather event of the 20th Century was the 1979 religious coup in Iran, the significance of which was largely lost or ignored by most observers under the smoke screen of the hostage crisis and Carter/Reagan era bumbling. The truth about the ayatollahs is that they played America then as well as they played team Obama more recently in 2016.
The advent of Persian theocracy was seismic for two reasons. Religious rule was legitimized in an erstwhile secular state. And theocracy in Tehran, rule by clerics, provided both a role model and spark to the fire that still rages in the Sunni world today. Indeed, if you consult narratives for the period, theocracy and the Shia /Sunni rift are largely ignored. The headlong civic plunge backwards is still called, ironically, a “Jasmine Revolution” or an “Arab Spring.”
Alas, the subtext of the global jihad is religious war, an imperial campaign that targets non-Muslim infidels and apostate secular Muslims alike. Now that Shia and Sunni nuclear weapons are part of the equation, Koranic prophesy about Armageddon becomes more relevant to true believers.
Indeed, the “great game” in the Mideast and North Africa is not between East and West; the true nexus of jihad is the antipathy between Arabs and Persians, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Washington has inserted itself on the median strip between these 1400 year old religious road warriors. Before the Shia/Sunni rift is resolved, something more than American naiveté might become road kill.
The rationale for war is often the same as the rationale for the death penalty. Some miscreants are so evil; killing is the only sensible solution. America needs to acknowledge the primal threat of Shia and Sunni Islamism or stand down. Half-measures and futile appeasements are variants of a death wish actualized in slow motion.
America will not defeat Islamism alone either. A bloated NATO has done little or nothing to restrain the jihad. Indeed, the one unique European policy response to the Ummah hemorrhage is “open borders.” Who in their right mind believes that the answer to jihad and terror in Europe, or America, is more Muslims?
Non-contiguous Islamic nations do not accept Muslim refugees or migrants for good and prudent reasons. Only infidel morons invite ideological, religious, or kinetic threats into the homeland?
Pay and Play
America must insist that Muslims fight and finance their own wars, rescue their own refugees/migrants, and reform a toxic religio/political ideology tomorrow, if not sooner. If the Ummah is content to succumb to Shia and Sunni fundamentalist theocracy, so be it. A unified Muslim threat simplifies the targeting problem for any future “coalitions” that will have to deal with Islamic jidad.
NATO “partners” too must pay their own way and fight as required or resign themselves to the tender mercies of a European caliphate. The EU is already on a slippery slope if Brexit is any clue. Crash Islamization just accelerates the slide.
Social democratic imperialism, or globalism, is the single political canard that underwrites most recent American and European foreign/military policy disasters. Alas, justifying violations of national sovereignty with good intentions is a little like trying to rationalize rape as speed dating.
Unsolicited intervention is usually propelled by special interests, hidden agendas, or colossal arrogance. Armed assault is a hermaphrodite too; an “intervention” for the aggressor is an invasion for the victim. Worst of all, “humanitarian” intervention, as justified by globalist polemicists like Samantha Powers at the UN, is often a euphemism for coercive “regime change.” There’s nothing legal, democratic, moral, or “humanitarian” about any sponsored coup, insurrection, sectarian or civil war.
Nations are sovereign or they are not.
Recent evidence is conclusive. Regime change is an act of war sponsored by naive nitwits who have no intention of winning the fight or dealing with consequences of predictable chaos.
The Virtual Illusion
If the policy, plan, or strategy is hair brained, tactics and operational arts are unlikely to compensate. So it is with fifty years of Muslim small wars where much American “combat” is fought by arm chair warriors in air conditioned aircraft, “situation” rooms, Pentagon suites, or mobile trailers. We are told that the American President personally selects drone or cruise missile targets. Small wonder then that American tactics echo round the world while strategy can’t find its big boy pants.
Virtual warriors are not unlike video gamers, nerds far removed from the blood and guts, but dangerous nonetheless. There’s little evidence to date to suggest that air power alone wins any war, large or small.
Indeed, precision guided weapons had little to do with big kills. Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Muamar Gadhafi were all killed the old fashioned way, with boots on the ground. An airstrike, unfortunately, seldom provides an opportunity for gloating or twerking.
Body count is never as important as bodies that count.
The bin Laden execution has become such a staple for political demagogues that a generation of children might come to believe that the Saudi villain was shot by Foggy Bottom fairies, not a SEAL team. The American State Department is fond of taking bows for the achievements of others and equally adverse to accepting responsibilities for any failures.
If you compare religion, politics, culture, and praxis; there’s not much of a difference between the Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. All lop off limbs or heads as public spectacle, each is the leg of a backward triumvirate metastasizing into the past in a quest for monolithic Islamic theocracy. Turkey is now a prime candidate to make the irredentist trio into a quartet.
When democratic socialists pander to clerical thugs, theocracy is validated. Freedom and democracy are thus suborned.
After 50 years of humiliations, if not defeat, the much vaunted NATO and the EU condominiums have proven to be paper tigers. Europeans, again taking cues from Berlin, believe that Islam will be appeased if Muslim migrants are pacified with open borders, subsidized hots, cots, and unlimited blond girl friends. Most Muslim immigrants and refugees are single males.
Here again, history is instructive. When secular fascism threatened the world in the 20th Century, most of Europe rolled over, north to south, like cheap tricks. There were a few noble exceptions at the margins in London and Moscow that made a difference. Now that religious fascism again stalks the continent, the usual European suspects again play the catamite.
There’s no chance that America alone saves Europe or the Ummah from their worst instincts. Even Jim Clapper admits as much. Defeating Islamofascism will require stout partners. Few social democracies in continental Europe are up for that challenge today.
For too many Europeans, losing a war is the fastest way to end a war. Hat tip to Orwell.
If the conflict with Islamism is to be won, new thinking, less twerking, and new alliances are crucial. Any secular autocrat is a better ally than any Muslim theocrat. Russia and China are ruthless with home-grown Islamists. Moscow and Beijing have no illusions about the meaning of jihad and the threat posed by fascism, secular or religious, abroad or at home.
“Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”
-- Julius Caesar