Today the world faces a dilemma it had always hoped to avoid, morality going up against ideology. How do we handle the situation in Ukraine without understanding our moral obligation to the world? What is happening in Ukraine is a moral outrage with leadership acknowledging the fact. President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken as well as many of our NATO allies have called Putin a war criminal and say there is evidence that the Russians are committing war crimes in Ukraine. The crimes being committed are a daily occurrence. Economic sanctions will take time to become effective, if ever. The legal process that could be used is dysfunctional at best. The ICC in the Hauge has already opened an investigation, but it has no true power to charge Russia or Russians with any crime. The evidence to support the charges are inside a war zone.
The West has hidden behind the legalities of international treaties and law. I am not suggesting that we ignore laws or abrogate treaties, just that we need to remember who and what we are. Ukraine is not a NATO member so Russian actions do not trigger a NATO response. Russia is a nuclear power which means we must proceed carefully, but at what cost? President Biden likes to whisper into microphones that if we engage Russia its WWIII. This goes back to the claim President Obama made while negotiating the Iran deal, “Its this deal or war.” Is this the mentality we need to follow, let Ukraine be crushed or it’s WWIII? Does the West have a moral obligation that overrides the arguments of diplomacy?
We have been faced with these questions before. Our founding fathers needed the moral courage to stand up the greatest military force in fighting for independence. Then there came a time to fight to remove the stain of slavery from the country. The greatest generation then had to face off against the Axis powers. Let it be known there was much objection to this last in the US even through our leadership knew about the holocaust, but we found a way. Yes, Russia is a nuclear power but we faced off with them during the Cuban missile crisis. We found the moral courage to face down the bigots of the Jim Crow era. Can we find the courage now to understand our moral obligation before it is too late? If we cannot find the moral courage to do what is right now, what becomes of us in the future.
In August of last year, I wrote about the failure of US foreign policy in Afghanistan. In general, I wrote about the failure of US foreign policy. I think it time to revisit that article and expand. Lets start with the beginning of what I wrote;
“Now that lives have been lost and we have withdrawn, this ill-conceived operation once again highlights the lack of US Foreign policy capabilities or our understanding of what is needed to protect American interests. Since the end of the Korean War the US has slowly lost the will to build influence and continue to lead the world. The Cold War was the last hoorah for what was left of US influence mostly based on the nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union. Much of the problem stems from the United States inability to adjust to a different world.…In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia helped establish the countries we know today that make up Europe. There were tweaks along the way, but it established the customs of international relations as we know them. It was established within the bounds of European customs and cultures and of course held little sway as countries pushed out of Europe to colonize the world. At the end of the First World War the victorious nations sliced and diced the world up to their economic and political advantage. Ignoring the wants and desires of the indigenous population they put in motion decades of violence. Many countries put together by colonial powers were countries in name only. Following the Second World War and then the Cold War many of these countries broke apart or fell under ruthless regimes that held them together at gun point.” Following the breakup of the Soviet Union the countries that were subjected to Soviet domination or were directly under Moscow as “Soviet Republics” began to return to their traditional status. This of course led to violence and a continuing restabling of borders.
What is happening today in Ukraine is a continuation of foreign policy failure that have been happening for decades. Our major adversary after the 2d World War was the Soviet Union. During that time a policy/belief was something called Mutual Assured Destruction or “MAD.” In the 1960s a book was published titled “Arms and Influence” by Thomas Schelling. Schelling was an American economist and professor of foreign policy. He won a Nobel Memorial Prize for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis.”
The first chapter in this book is titled “The Diplomacy of Violence.” This is not a review of the book but get it and read it if you want to understand. The first lines of the book are “The usual distinction between diplomacy and force is not merely in the instruments, words or bullets, but in the relation between adversaries—in the interplay of motives and the role of communication, understandings, compromise, and restraint. Diplomacy is bargaining; it seeks outcomes that, though not ideal for either party, are better for both than some of the alternatives.” sometimes this entails threats as well as offers. This is the part the US has forgotten, threats. By this I do not mean economic sanctions, though they can be part of the package, I mean the threat of physical violence. The use of this type of threat is known as coercion. Schelling continues “To be coercive, violence has to be anticipated. And it has to be avoidable by accommodation. The power to hurt is bargaining power. To exploit it is diplomacy—vicious diplomacy, but diplomacy.”
This last part is what Russia was using when it parked 150000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Once coercion does not work then the next act is to initiate violence. There is a difference in making someone give you what you want and forcing them to give it to you. On the one hand it must be believed you will initiate violence for coercion to succeed, on the other it must be believed you can take by force what you want.
The mistake Russia has made so far is the belief they could coerce Ukraine and if that failed they could take what they wanted. The mistake the West made is not believing Russia would attack or only move to take the Donbas region. To compound that mistake the west took the military out of the equation. It is not as if we have not faced expansionist moves and threats of nuclear attack before. Khrushchev did threaten nukes over Berlin but it was likely at the time he did not have any. And in 1962 we again faced the threat in Cuba. The response at the time came from President Kennedy “it shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” During the Cuban crisis we also used unofficial back channels to communicate. This type of unofficial communications is now looked down upon by the public as not being transparent.
We have lost our way in the world and need to return to some of what kept us strong and helped us lead. I am sorry if this comes as a shock but to remove the threat of military action from diplomatic activity is to render the entire endeavor useless. I applaud President Biden for his efforts to cut off Russia economically, but these efforts became ineffective when he announced, and continues to announce, that no US forces will not be deployed against Russia since that will mean World War Three. Yesterday China announced severe consequences for any nation helping Taiwan militarily. I do not want to see US troops killed in Ukraine nor the start of WWIII. Perhaps the west can relearn the lesions on the past and present a credible threat to Russia. I fear this may be to late but could be effective if all of Europe joined in, NATO and non-aligned countries as well.
One of the questions asked and badly answered is, why is the war in Ukraine still going on? While any strategic analysis would have to conclude that Russia will eventually defeat the Ukrainian military and occupy the country it is more than likely Ukrainian resistance will continue for years and drain Moscow’s desire to continue. If this is allowed to happen, many tens of thousands will die both Ukrainians and Russians.
What can the west do to stop the carnage and make the Russians leave? Economic sanctions are the go-to answer whenever something like this happens and I don’t know why, since they have never truly worked. Putin is a dictator who feels secure in his position, and sanctions will not affect him. He is securing his position by relieving Russian generals from their commands and has arrested the head of the FSB, the successor of the KGB. He feels secure in the knowledge that he has superior nuclear delivery systems as well as an advantage in space and can destroy satellites that would blind the west. He has no one around him that will tell him the truth.
The question to answer then is will he use his nukes and chemical weapons, and if so, how do we deal with the possibility? We must first off stop the excuse that all answers revolve around NATO. This war threatens Europe and the world. We hear a lot of talk about article 5 of the NATO charter, an attack on one is an attack on all. Secretary of State Blinken has stated that any missile that falls in a NATO country will be considered an article 5 violation, even if it is accidental. The Russians did strike a Ukrainian air base in Yavoriv, approximately 25 miles from the Polish border and close to where members of the 82d Airborne are stationed. It would not take much for a cruise missile to over fly a target by 25 miles, especially seeing the quality of Russian equipment. If this should happen, would we in fact enact article 5 and pour NATO troops into Ukraine? The Secretary of State says yes, we would, but the President of the United States says he will not start WWIII by attacking Russian troops. If we do, will we in fact start WWIII or stop it. If we do not, what deterrence do we maintain, and will the failure in fact escalate to a larger war?
I always hope diplomacy will resolve the most serious problems of our age. I also know that diplomacy will never work without the threat of military action to back it up. Today Putin does not fear the west and is confident in the fact that Biden or NATO will actually resort to arms. We must disavow him of this attitude, or we will be forced to surrender all or go into a much larger war then would be necessary.
Currently there is a lot of talk about #US, #NATO, #Russia, and #Ukraine. It is interesting to see the divergence of opinions and in some cases the reversal of Democrat and Republican views. Most show political ideology and others show a serious lack of understanding history. Is it prudent to ignore the Russian attempt to coerce Ukraine and the west rather than go to war? What is then the reaction when Russia attacks in order to compel the world to accepts it demands? Why are we facing a situation that could affect the world in a most dangerous manner?
One side sees it as a way to prove the current administration is willing to face up to a bully and protect democracy while the other side sees it as pay back for all the attacks on the past administration over Russia. The Obama administration presented the Iran deal as “This or War.” In her book “The March to Folly” writer and historian Barbra Tuchman pointed out the many times in history nations went to war for all the wrong reasons. In a follow-on book “The Guns of August” Tuchman recounted how Europe fell into WWI for the most transient of reasons. What Tuchman did not talk about was the reasons nations go to war when it becomes necessary to protect itself and its political system.
Today the west is faced with the question of diplomacy vs war. All of course wish to see diplomacy win out but at what cost. The Trump administration took a lot of criticism for being nationalistic. We heard how he was destroying the liberal world order. Does Russia need to bargain with the west? The threat of sanctions is real and could impact Russia in the long term. In the short term however using force can achieve all of Russia’s aims.
Russia does not fear any repercussions since it has done much the same thing in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Again, following the annexation of Crimea and the Russian supported breakaway of the Donbas region of Ukraine we see no real action by the west. The fighting in Ukraine only slowed down when the Trump administration began to supply Ukraine with military with equipment. Where have we seen this before, Germany and the Sudetenland, Italy and Ethiopia and Japan and Manchuria.
Diplomacy was tried in all three instances and failed in the end, resulting in war. Could a different type of diplomacy have worked, more robust, more threatening? Carl von Clausewitz told us “War is a continuation of Politics by other means.” In his book “Arms and Influence” Thomas Schelling tells us of the two types of use of the military in diplomacy, to coerce an outcome by threat, which is what Russia is doing right now, or to compel with the use of force. How to avoid either without going to war is to have a military option that is sufficient and believed that will make traditional diplomacy a viable option. The concept of mutually assured destruction kept the world safe during the cold war. The closest the world came to nuclear war was the Cuban missile crisis when cooler more mature heads prevailed.
Like the 1930’s many are saying this is not our concern, it’s a European problem. Just as in the 1930’s allowing the problem to fester and explode it will eventually return to us. Also, to those who say we should take care of our own problems like the southern border, we can do both if we act as a united country and leave the politics behind.
Not being a fan of Joe Biden, this is difficult to say but, he has made the correct call on sending 5000 troops to Ukraine if he really does it. Can 5000 troops stop a Russian invasion, of course not. During the cold war the Berlin brigade could not have stopped a Soviet invasion, but US troops would have been engaged so it would be war with the US. The problem is at that time our leadership was perceived by our enemies as strong enough to go to war. After the Afghanistan debacle and decades in government that showed he was a dove will Russia take him seriously. Seeing his weakness will our allies be willing to follow. Time will tell.
Recently President Joe Biden remarked that the US has no legal obligation to defend Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. This may or may-not be true. In 1994 the US along with Russia and the UK signed what is known as “The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.” In this memorandum the signatories spelled out that the territorial integrity as well as political independence of Ukraine was guaranteed. These assurances were tested in 2014 with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, support to rebel forces and annexation of Crimea, and were found wanting.
The agreement is not a Treaty, it provisions are void of any legal provisions. Following the Russian invasion the Obama administration did very little more then raise diplomatic concerns. The Trump administration increased support to Kyiv through the transferal of Javelin anti-tank missiles and other military equipment. While fighting continues in the heavily Russian region known as Donbas the world ahs lost interest, until now.
Today few in the west believe there can be a new Pan-European war, however history tells us otherwise. Russia has been testing western resolve for years not only in Ukraine but in Georgia and by pushing the cyber envelope. The west has become complacent in its ways and more concentrated on its ideological differences. Russia on the other hand has been busy laying the groundwork for a new Russian empire. Putin himself declared the fall of the Soviet Union a mistake.
How long can we ignore Russian and Chinese aggression before we realize it is to late. Had we called Hitler prior to the Sudetenland debacle. Had we faced up to Japanize actions in China and elsewhere, would history be different or a little less bloody. Had we stood up to despots in the past would we have learned. Can we stop Putin by publicly threatening him with economic sanctions? The clear answer is no. Sanctions have almost never worked on any country and they certainly will not work on Russian leadership.
The Fact is by calling Putin out like Biden did it is more likely Russia will invade Ukraine. While militarily strong the west has shown no true desire or will to use that military. Activity in the Middle East never raised to the level that would impress Putin or his generals. The exact opposite is true, what we have shown is, pushed hard and we leave.
We may learn from the cold war days, the Berlin Brigade was out in place as a trip wire. Could the same thing work in Ukraine? A small contingent of US forces placed on the ground opposite of the Russian forces would mean to invade would require a direct confrontation with the US and NATO. It might if Putin can be convinced that the West would respond militarily. Unfortunately, that is a big if.
After watching President Biden speak about the reasons for our withdrawal from Afghanistan it has taking me sometime to claim down enough to write. He took a victory lap to extol defeat. He praised the work of many to get out US citizens as well as others that had worked for us. But not all. He started this by declaring the United States has ended 20 years of war. Like the British Evacuation of Dunkirk was the end of the war in Europe. He pointed out the ISIS-K, which supposedly carried out the bombing at the airport, are sworn enemies of the Taliban. This does not make the Taliban good or our friends, they are just different terrorist groups. He said that the made the decision on April 1 to end the war and set the final date as Aug 31. He actually set the date as Sept, 11. He spoke of the 300,000 strong Afghan Army that failed to fight. To begin he has used that number, which is wrong, it was closer to 179,000. And failed to mention that by closing Bagram airbase we removed the air power that we had trained the Afghans to expect. They did have an air force, but we also removed the contractor support that allowed them to continue flying. He spoke of the government collapse and the president fleeing, amid the corruption and malfeasance “and turning the country over to the Taliban. The building he spoke from was once burnt by the British as President Madison fled. To my knowledge there has been no turnover of government and the Taliban are occupying the capital. When the French government collapsed, and de Gaulle fled to England did that mean everyone must accept the Nazis as the legitimate government of France. As the France resistance rose so we see a resistance movement in Panjshir under the old Northern Alliance. Are there plans to support them? We had been told there where between 10 -15000 Americans in Afghanistan. The President said they had identified early 5000 who wished to stay but now wanted out. He said that more then 5500 out, that leaves, using the lower number almost 5000 left behind. But he went on to say that only about 100 – 200 remain behind. Do the math Joe. He then goes on to say Blinken is continuing diplomatic efforts and cited a UN Security Council resolution that the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on their promises, com’on man are you that stupid, or worse do you think we are. He claimed the Aug 31 date was not an arbitrary deadline and that he original date Trump gave was May 1st. he changed it, therefore it was arbitrary and fungible. Biden then proceeded to outright lie. He said the agreement “It included no requirement that Taliban work out a cooperative governing arrangement with the Afghan government.” It did. The US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has said on more than one occasion the agreement had several escape clauses. But Biden declared that because of the agreement he had no choice, it was either leave or send in more troops. Like President Obama, who said of the Iran Deal it was that deal or war, Biden put everything out as black or white.
Biden said in the beginning of the speech that he took full responsibility then proceeded to blame everyone else. He blamed US citizens for not getting out even through they had been warned as early as March. Bagram Air Base would have been the logical point to remove these citizens but was closed 1 July. The administration continued to declare that the Taliban would not be in charge until the end of the year. He has said in the past that he followed the military commander’s recommendation on leaving to include ending the airlift, “The decision to end the military airlift operations at Kabul airport was based on the unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisers.” I find it hard to believe that any decision was unanimous, as Gen Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking the same someone is not thinking.” In the end he asked the same thing he has asked in the past, what was America vital national interest in Afghanistan? The answer will likely become clear in the future. The terrorist problem will not go away because we want it to. We need to stop our current habit of only looking out 5 seconds into the future and saying I don’t see anything.
Now that lives have been lost and we have withdrawn, this ill-conceived operation once again highlights the lack of US Foreign policy capabilities or our understanding of what is needed to protect American interests. Since the end of the Korean War the US has slowly lost the will to build influence and continue to lead the world. The Cold War was the last hoorah for what was left of US influence mostly based on the nuclear stand off with the Soviet Union. Much of the problem stems from the United States inability to adjust to a different world. Most of US foreign involvement since the cold war has been in Asia and the Middle East, cultures that most in Washington do not understand. This should not be the case as it is not in many other western countries and the US foreign service should be able to accept the different cultures but has always ended up trying to impose US values on the nations we get engaged with.
In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia helped establish the countries we know today that make up Europe. There were tweaks along the way, but it established the customs of international relations we know today. It was established within the bounds of European customs and cultures and of course held little sway as countries pushed out of Europe to colonize the world. At the end of the First World War the victorious nations sliced and diced the world up to their economic and political advantage. Ignoring the wants and desires of the indigenous population they put in motion decades of violence. Many countries put together by colonial powers were countries in name only. Following the Second World War and then the Cold War many of these countries broke apart or fell under ruthless regimes that held them together at gun point.
After the creation of Israel, the US seems to have locked out any further changes, no new countries. This of course left the made-up countries like Iraq to fend for themselves. We refused to acknowledge the different ethnic, religious, and even linguistic differences. The United States has the distinct advantage/disadvantage of being one of the most heterogeneous nations in the world. Regardless of all our knowledge we refuse to accept that not all countries and people will accept our values or adhere to our customs. We are seeing this play out today in Afghanistan. A tribal nation that many have tried to forge into a single country. It will not work. We needed to arm and train tribal forces not a national army. If it was ever to change it would take generations a century or more to make it whole. The United States unfortunately maintains a five second view of the world and has no idea of second and third order effect of its decisions. We look to deal with problems on a country-by-country basis while the countries we are dealing with are acting in regional or overarching religious aspects. In the case of the Taliban, they see their version of Islam as the only correct interpretation.
Biden said that after 20 years it was time for the Afghans to take charge, but who are the Afghans? As a single entity they do not exist. Our presence did begin to push a lot of the country forward. At a minimum woman were being educated. We are now talking to a group that holds a world view front he 7th century and act as if they have changed in 20 years and are now willing to become a part of the world. But all that will end simple because our foreign policy professional has failed once more.
The usual distinction between diplomacy and force is not merely in the instruments, words or bullets, but in the relation between adversaries—in the interplay of motives and the role of communication, understandings, compromise, and restraint. Diplomacy is bargaining; it seeks outcomes that, though not ideal for either party, are better for both than some of the alternatives. In diplomacy each party somewhat controls what the other wants, and can get more by compromise, exchange, or collaboration than by taking things in his own hands and ignoring the other’s wishes. The bargaining can be polite or rude, entail threats as well as offers, assume a status quo or ignore all rights and privileges, and assume mistrust rather than trust. But whether polite or impolite, constructive or aggressive, respectful or vicious, whether it occurs among friends or antagonists and whether or not there is a basis for trust and goodwill, there must be some common interest, if only in the avoidance of mutual damage, and an awareness of the need to make the other party prefer an outcome acceptable to oneself. With enough military force a country may not need to bargain. Some things a country wants it can take, and some things it has it can keep, by sheer strength, skill and ingenuity. It can do this forcibly, accommodating only to opposing strength, skill, and ingenuity and without trying to appeal to an enemy’s wishes. Forcibly a country can repel and expel, penetrate and occupy, seize, exterminate, disarm and disable, confine, deny access, and directly frustrate intrusion or attack. It can, that is, if it has enough strength. “Enough” depends on how much an opponent has. There is something else, though, that force can do. It is less military, less heroic, less impersonal, and less unilateral; it is uglier, and has received less attention in Western military strategy. In addition to seizing and holding, disarming and confining, penetrating and obstructing, and all that, military force can be used to hurt. In addition to taking and protecting things of value it can destroy value. In addition to weakening an enemy militarily it can cause an enemy plain suffering.
Schelling, Thomas C.. Arms and Influence (The Henry L. Stimson Lectures Series) (pp. 1-2). Yale University Press.
It has been asked many times in the last few days, weeks, and months, why are we in Afghanistan and what is the American National Interest. The Presidents last news conference touched on this as have some of his last announcements on his decision to withdrew and news outlets have stated that polls on the American people stated that they wanted to get out of Afghanistan. Biden has also on several occasions said that our goals have been met and we should not continue to put US forces in harm’s way. I started off with the opening paragraph from Thomas Shelling’s book “Arms and Influence.” It is interesting to note that the first chapter is titled “The Diplomacy of Violence.” I could have as easily quoted George Santayana “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Afghanistan is a wild and virtually ungovernable country. It was used by Al Qaeda to plan and launch the 9/11 attacks. Would we ever be able to work with the Taliban to bring them into the government, no. President Biden seemed to think so, as did President Trump. Both were determined to end US military presence in Afghanistan. Trump understood how difficult it would be to corral the Taliban so he placed conditions on our exit and while using diplomacy added the threat of military intervention should the Taliban not meet the conditions. Biden on the other hand Using the deal Trump hammed out as the excuse that we had to get out, regardless of conditions. As we have learned from Schelling, diplomacy with out the threat of force is useless. Carl von Clausewitz in his work “On War” declared that “war is a continuation of policy by other means.” Does all this mean that the US or any other country must engage in “Forever Wars’ of course not. What we need to understand is that when dealing with foreign adversaries diplomatically there is always going to be the knowledge of a military in the background. This is not a horrible, brutal, bulling way of existence, but a matter of human nature. Without such a threat Hitler went on a rampage that nearly destroyed the world. With the threat of “Mutually Assured Destruction” the US and the Soviet Union existed side by side in peace. Biden and his government are living in a world of Ideology not reality. With Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban terrorist once again have a base of operations. Why did this not happen before as we wound down our force commitment? Trumps threats were believed. Currently Biden is seen as weak and ineffectual. Why is Afghanistan important? To keep the knowledge alive that the US will support its allies. What now will keep Turkey from attacking Iraq and eliminating the Kurds. What will keep Israel safe? What is going to keep China from attacking Taiwan. Second and Third order of effect must be considered in any decision that is made, not just feel good ideological rea
Yesterday President Biden finally acted regarding the recent attacks on US interests in Iraq by Iranian backed militias in SYRIA. While I congratulate the President for acting, I question the what and wherefore of the attack. According to reports there were several options presented to the president and the one chosen was the smallest target. This would not be a problem provided there was a political or military reason for the target selection. The only political reason seems to be domestic consumption. The other reason for target selection is the impact it will make and the message it will send.
The stated purpose was to launch a measured and proportional attack that would send a message but not lead to any escalation. This explanation shows that the new administration knows nothing about the politics or culture of the region. The hatred for the west is deep and profound. There are conflicting reports as to the results of the attack. They go from only infrastructure was attacked up to 17 people killed. In any case attacking these militias will always result in retaliation and escalation.
In 1993 then President Clinton ordered retaliatory attacks into Baghdad aimed at punishing Iraqi intelligence for their part in a plot to assassinate former President Bush, and Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the bombing if US Embassies in Africa. For the most part the buildings attacked in Baghdad were damaged but since it was done in the early morning. In Afghanistan and Sudan mush the same, in Afghanistan the camps targeted were empty. The reasons given were once again, to send a message. The effect of these messages was stepped up terror attacks in Europe and the US with the 9/11 grand finally.
Internally prominent republicans have applauded the move while several democrat law makers called it an illegal move. Internationally the Russians complained they were not informed in time to deconflict the battle space, Syria called it a violation of their sovereignty. Iraq was informed as well prior to the mission and likely informed the militias in time for them to vacate the area, at least most.
It is unlikely that this attack will do more than heighten tensions in the region and Iran will likely put Biden on notice that this will only delay the process to reestablishing the Iran deal. As said, I am happy Biden did something and hope it is successful but feel it will not be. It was the wrong action in the wrong area. Biden will learn it will take more force to impact terrorist.